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Vol. 73/No. 2      January 19, 2009

Five immigrants convicted
in Fort Dix frame-up trial
(front page)
CHERRY HILL, New Jersey—On December 23 five immigrants framed up on charges of plotting to attack Fort Dix in New Jersey were convicted of conspiracy to kill U.S. soldiers. They were acquitted on a charge of attempted murder. The men could face life imprisonment when they are sentenced in April.

The defendants were all in their twenties when arrested in May 2007. They live in Cherry Hill, a New Jersey suburb of Philadelphia. Mohamad Shnewer, originally from Jordan, drove a taxi in Philadelphia. Three brothers—Eljvir Duka, Dritan Duka, and Shain Duka—are ethnic Albanians from the former Yugoslavia who ran a roofing business. Serdar Tatar is from Turkey and worked in a convenience store in Philadelphia.

The five were denied bail and have been held at the Federal Detention Center in Philadelphia in a special unit where they are allowed one telephone call a month.

The government charge that the five had conspired to attack Fort Dix was based on hundreds of hours of secretly taped conversations between defendants and two FBI informants over 15 months.

One of the informants, Mahmoud Omar, had been found guilty of bank fraud and was facing immigration charges when the FBI recruited him in 2006. He was paid more than $230,000 to spy on the five men.

Besnik Bakalli, the other informant, was wanted for a shooting in Albania and was awaiting deportation when agents plucked him from a Pennsylvania jail, paying him about $150,000 during the undercover operation.

The informants encouraged the men to watch al-Qaeda videos and pressed them to take action.

The prosecution presented no evidence of illegal acts. Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Hammer explained to the court that under conspiracy charges the government does not have to prove the defendants all discussed or agreed on a plan to attack, or that there was a specific plan. They must only prove intent. He told the court “just talk is powerful evidence.”

In an interview here, Anan Shnewer, Mohamad’s sister, said, “this was a case based on lies. The court didn’t allow all the facts to be presented and the quotes from the tapes were selected. Why didn’t the jury hear Shain, Eljivir, and Dritan say ‘it is forbidden to kill soldiers’?”

Farik Duka, the Duka brothers’ father, pointed to another problem with the tapes. “The translations were wrong,” he said. He gave as an example the government’s translation of the Albanian work “hak” as vengeance. The word can have other meanings including “something due, remuneration, and reason,” according to Albanian dictionaries. In this case it meant “justice,” he said.

The men’s lawyers attacked the credibility of the FBI informants and accused them of instigating the plot.

Shnewer’s attorney, Rocco Cipparone, said that there would not have been a conspiracy without the involvement of the informants. “I believe they shaped the evidence,” he told the press after the verdict.

Cipparone explained to the court in closing arguments that Omar, who is 38 years old, showered Shnewer with attention and advice like an older brother, and often berated him for not taking action. In 2006 Omar told Shnewer, “We’ve been talking about this matter for three months. Start taking some steps. That’s it.”

Faten Shnewer, Mohamed’s mother, said in an interview, “This is not justice! My son was pushed and intimidated. It was just talk. He never even returned Omar’s telephone calls. He did not kill anybody.”

Jim Sues, executive director of the New Jersey chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said, “Many people in the Muslim community will see this as a case of entrapment. From what I saw, there was a significant role played by the government informant.”
Related articles:
New Jersey unionist released from jail, fights deportation  
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