CAMDEN, N.J. – Five men accused of planning an attack on an Army training base in New Jersey were inspired by Al Qaeda and Usama bin Laden, a prosecutor said Monday during opening statements in their terrorism trial.
The government has presented the case as one of the most frightening examples of homegrown terrorism since the Sept. 11 attacks.
Authorities said that in 2006 and 2007 the men turned paintball games into terrorist training sessions and met to discuss a plot to sneak into Fort Dix, used primarily to train reservists for duty in Iraq and Afghanistan. No attack was carried out.
"Their motive was to defend Islam. Their inspiration was Al Qaeda and Usama bin Laden. Their intent was to kill members of the United States armed services," Deputy U.S. Attorney William Fitzpatrick told the jurors.
The government promised to show the jury about 90 recordings that would lay out just how far along the defendants were in planning and training for an attack.
The men, all foreign-born Muslims in their 20s — are charged with conspiring to murder military personnel, attempted murder and weapons offenses. They could face life in prison if they're convicted during the trial, which is expected to last into December. They were arrested in May 2007.
Lawyers for Serdar Tatar, Mohamad Ibrahim Shnewer and brothers Dritan, Eljvir and Shain Duka countered that the government's recordings will show that the defendants were not planning anything.
The defense lawyers also began attacking the credibility of two paid FBI informants at the heart of the case, saying both had criminal pasts and had their own interests to make it look like there was a plot. They said one informant, Mahmoud Omar, will have been paid $238,000 by the end of this year for his help in the case, and the other, Besnik Bakalli, was motivated by the hope of getting legal residency status in the United States.
Fitzpatrick told jurors they would see jihadist videos that the defendants watched and would learn many details of the alleged plot, including government assertions that one went on reconnaissance missions at Fort Dix and other military installations and that all of them trained for an attack during retreats in Pennsylvania's Pocono Mountains in 2006 and 2007.
The government also says the defendants had at least two maps of Fort Dix.
Defense lawyers accused the government of taking things out of context.
Michael Huff, a lawyer for Dritan "Tony" Duka, said the government was stretching innocent games of paintball and time at shooting ranges to look like terrorism training.
"I guess the government can say that Ping-Pong helps your hand-eye coordination" for an attack, he said. "That's what they're doing in this case. They're taking these innocent things and turning them into something they're not."