Entrapment? Five convicted in Ft. Dix plot
Five men whom attorneys said paid FBI informants prodded into exploring their deepest fantasies about waging jihad on America were convicted in federal court Monday of conspiring to kill US soldiers but acquitted on attempted murder charges.
The men allegedly planned to attack Fort Dix in New Jersey, although defense lawyers argued that they never intended to carry out the plot and were drawn into making incriminating statements by the informants, one of whom was an illegal immigrant on probation for bank fraud and another who was paid $150,000 to secretly record the men.
The verdict was met with intense skepticism in the Muslim community.
"Many people in the Muslim community will see this as a case of entrapment," Jim Sues, executive director of the New Jersey chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, told the Associated Press.
Sues attended five days of testimony during the trial.
"From what I saw, there was a significant role played by the government informant."
Like many of the government's highly touted terror cases pursued with much headline-grabbing vigor since 9/11, the Fort Dix plot seemed more aspirational than operational.
A clear-eyed consideration of the alleged plot suggests there was never much chance of it going off successfully. The men hoped to storm a heavily fortified army base armed only with a half-dozen assault rifles, killing as many soldiers as possible before escaping in a getaway car parked a quarter-mile away. Clearly, this was not even in the same universe as the elaborately planned, meticulously coordinated hijacking the government failed to stop seven years ago.
The Associated Press provides more background on the conviction.
During the eight-week trial, the government relied heavily on information gathered by the informants, who infiltrated the group and secretly recorded hundreds of conversations.A blogger at FireDogLake's emptywheel notes the difficulty inherent in assessing such cases.
Prosecutors said the men bought several assault rifles supplied by the FBI and that they trekked to Pennsylvania's Pocono Mountains to practice their shooting. The government also presented dozens of jihadist speeches and videos that the men supposedly used as inspiration.
Convicted were: Jordanian-born cab driver Mohamad Shnewer; Turkish-born convenience store clerk Serdar Tatar; and brothers Dritan, Eljvir and Shain Duka, ethnic Albanians from the former Yugoslavia, who had a roofing business.
"It is hard to know the validity of prosecutions like this one with the tattered reputation of the Bush Department of Justice. The habitual practice of oppressive and deceptive prosecutions, and flat out dishonesty, especially on terrorism cases, leaves even jury verdicts open to question," writes bmaz. "January 20, 2009 cannot come soon enough."
The government has not been as successful in securing convictions of other groups of Muslims cajoled into hatching plots against America.
Federal prosecutors are trying for a third time to convict six Florida men accused of hatching an improbable scheme to bomb the Sears Tower.
Another perhaps overstated case alleging a plot to blow up fuel tanks at JFK Airport in New York has yet to go to trial.