FBI: Army Base "Dodged A Bullet"

Mohamad Ibrahim Shnewer, bottom center, is seen in an artist's drawing during a court appearance before Magistrate Joel Schneider, right, at the U.S. District Courthouse in Camden, N.J., Tuesday, May 8, 2007. Shnewer is one of six foreign-born Muslims who were arrested and accused Tuesday of plotting to attack the Army's Fort Dix and massacre scores of U.S. soldiers. AP

Six foreign-born Muslims were arrested and accused Tuesday of plotting to attack the Army's Fort Dix and massacre scores of U.S. soldiers, a plot the FBI says was foiled when the men took a video of themselves firing assault weapons to a store to have the footage put onto a DVD.

The plot to attack U.S. soldiers ended in darkness at a home in Cherry Hill, N.J., reports CBS News correspondent Bob Orr. Ringleaders of a homegrown terror cell with big plans and big mouths were arrested as they tried to buy AK-47 and M-16 assault weapons from an FBI agent posing as an arms dealer.

Federal agents watched and listened to the six suspects for more than a year, adds Orr.

The defendants, all men in their 20s from the former Yugoslavia and the Middle East, include a pizza deliveryman suspected of using his job to scout out the military base.

"Today we dodged a bullet. In fact, when you look at the type of weapons that this group was trying to purchase, we may have dodged a lot of bullets," said FBI agent J.P. Weiss. "We had a group that was forming a platoon to take on an army. They identified their target, they did their reconnaissance. They had maps. And they were in the process of buying weapons. Luckily, we were able to stop that."

Three of the men are illegal aliens; the others are legal permanent residents, and one is a U.S. citizen, CBS News reports. Four of the men were born in the former Yugoslavia, one was born in Jordan and one came from Turkey, authorities said. All had lived in the United States for years.

At the time of the arrests, the plot was in the planning stages and no attack was imminent, CBS News has learned. Officials said this is more of a "homegrown" plot with no ties to al Qaeda or any other international terrorist organization.

Read the federal criminal complaint (.pdf)
Their goal was "to kill as many American soldiers as possible" in attacks with mortars, rocket-propelled grenades and guns, prosecutors said.

Investigators said they infiltrated the group with an informant well over a year ago and bided their time while they secretly recorded the defendants, five of whom lived in Cherry Hill, a Philadelphia suburb about 20 miles from Fort Dix.

"This is what law enforcement is supposed to do in the post-9/11 era — stay one step ahead of those who are attempting to cause harm to innocent American citizens," U.S. Attorney Christopher Christie said.

In the wake of 9/11, more than 400,000 names have come under one form of government surveillance or another, from watch lists to wiretaps, reports CBS News chief investigative correspondent Armen Keteyian.

But only a handful of terrorists have been convicted in cases with concrete ties to al Qaeda, most notably "shoe bomber" Richard Reid and Iyman Faris, sent to bring down the Brooklyn Bridge.

Weiss saluted the unidentified New Jersey store clerk who noticed the suspicious video as the "unsung hero" of the case. "That's why we're here today — because of the courage and heroism of that individual," the FBI agent said.

In addition to plotting the attack on Fort Dix, the defendants spoke of attacking a Navy installation in Philadelphia during the annual Army-Navy football game, and conducted surveillance at other military installations in the region, prosecutors said.

One defendant, Eljvir Duka, was recorded as saying: "In the end, when it comes to defending your religion, when someone is trying attacks your religion, your way of life, then you go jihad."

  • Sean Alfano

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