Camden, New Jersey (CNSNews.com) - A Monday evening FBI raid on a quiet apartment complex in Cherry Hill, N.J., netted six men accused of planning a spectacular armed attack on a military base in an effort to kill U.S. service personnel.
"Today, we dodged a bullet," said Jodi Weis, special agent for the FBI's Philadelphia office. "We had a group forming a platoon to take on the Army. Luckily we were able to stop them."
The raids followed a 15-month undercover FBI investigation involving two informants who secretly recorded meetings.
"During a raid on the Cherry Hill apartment, police uncovered a number of jihadist videos, including the last will and testament of two of the 19 9/11 hijackers," said U.S. Attorney Christopher Christie.
"Authorities also found a video of Osama bin Laden calling for jihad, and other videos showing attacks on U.S. military personnel around the world," he said.
Officials are calling the six suspects "Islamic radicals" and "homegrown terrorists," whose alleged goal was to target soldiers at Fort Dix, an Army training base in New Jersey.
The plan may have involved getting access to the base through a local pizza delivery service, according to the criminal complaint filed by Christie in the U.S. District Court in Camden, N.J.
The men were in court in Camden Tuesday morning to hear the charges against them, including the charge of "conspiracy to kill military personnel," which carries a life sentence. They will be held in custody until Friday when a preliminary hearing is scheduled.
The men were identified as brothers Dritan Duka, Eljvir Duka, Shain Duka (ethnic Albanians from the former Yugoslavia and reportedly illegally in the U.S.), Serdar Tatar (a Philadelphia resident of Turkish extraction) and Mohamad Shnewer (a Cherry Hill resident originally from Jordan).
Argon Abdullahu, also an ethnic Albanian from the Balkans, was charged with aiding and abetting.
According to information provided by the FBI and the New Jersey Attorney General during a news conference Tuesday, Tatar said a family member owned a pizza store near Fort Dix. It is also alleged that one of the suspects had at one time delivered pizzas on numerous occasions to the military base.
The FBI became aware of the alleged plot when a clerk in a video store - the unnamed man is being hailed as an "unsung hero" - contacted authorities after a customer asked to have a video duplicated onto a DVD.
The video reportedly showed as many as 10 men shooting guns into the air at a firing range, shouting "Allah is greater" in Arabic, and calling for jihad.
Shortly thereafter, the FBI was able to infiltrate the group.
The criminal complaint says the suspects performed surveillance in 2006 of several military installations, including Fort Dix and Fort Monmouth in New Jersey, Dover Air Force Base in Delaware, and the U.S. Coast Guard Building in Philadelphia.
In January 2007, they traveled to the Pocono Mountains in eastern Pennsylvania where they conducted military-style training, it says.
"Most despicably, while training in the Poconos, they watched videos, including one which showed a U.S. Marine having his arm blown off during a battle, and the room burst out in laughter," Christie said. "These are the type of people we were dealing with."
They appeared last month to be ramping up their plans: The complaint alleges that two of the men tried to buy AK-47 Kalishnikov automatic machine guns and M-16 rifles, while one of the suspects "remarked that the acquisition of RPGs [rocket-propelled grenades] would increase the number of killings the group could cause."
During the period the men were under surveillance, they allegedly trained with firearms, collected weapons, and viewed terrorist training videos.
Of the four men born in the former Yugoslavia, one received military training in his home country as a sniper. Shnewer claimed to have experience training in the Egyptian military.
One man was a taxicab driver working in Philadelphia, three worked for a roofing company, one worked as a supermarket cashier, and another formerly worked at a 7/11 convenience store.
"We believe they are their own cell, however they are inspired by international terrorist organizations," Christie said. "They spoke frequently about international jihad. We see no connection [to al Qaeda] but we see inspiration."
In one exchange obtained by one of the FBI informants, Shnewer allegedly said, "If you want to do anything here, there is Fort Dix and I don't want to exaggerate, and I assure you that you can hit an American base very easily."
According to Christie, Tatar claimed "he knew the base like the back of his hand as he delivered pizza there on numerous occasions."
Security has been ramped up at Fort Dix, which is a training stop for National Guard and military personnel involved in the campaign against Islamist terror. Random searches of some vehicles has been replaced my mandatory searches of all vehicles entering the base, as well as ID checks.
Fort Monmouth has also added security measures. A spokesman for the military base would only say that the base is "taking appropriate action."
Security at nearby McGuire Air Force Base has also increased.
"This serves as a stark reminder that the threat of jihadists around the world and even here at home is very, very real," said Rep. James Saxton, who district includes Fort Dix. "It is not a threat that exists only in Iraq and the rest of the Middle East."
"Terrorist attacks are not always going to be on the grand scale of 9/11," said Christie.
"We've been saying all along that just because we haven't been attacked in the last five and a-half years, we cannot become complacent," he said. "As this situation has shown, everyone has a role to play to keep us safe from an attack."
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