CAMDEN, N.J. – Jurors finally got a glimpse into the mind of a government informant who helped authorities reel in five men accused of plotting to kill soldiers on Fort Dix.
The impression he gave Wednesday was of a man full of contradictions and confusion.
Mahmoud Omar, an Egyptian-born 39-year-old who entered the U.S. illegally through Mexico in the 1990s, had already spent four days on the witness stand for prosecutors in the trial of the alleged plotters.
For the most part, though, federal prosecutors used him to clarify points on recordings he secretly made of the suspects talking, which are at the heart of the government's case.
But for defense lawyers, who began cross-examining Omar on Wednesday, he himself is the key.
They contend that Omar, who is getting $1,500 a week plus free rent for his aid to the government, was the one who was trying to create a conspiracy and draw the other men into it.
Omar became an informant in 2005 after being caught in a bank fraud scam. Beginning in March 2006, he infiltrated the group of men eventually charged with plotting the attack on Fort Dix, a New Jersey Army installation used primarily to train soldiers for deployments in Iraq. No attack took place.
The men, all foreign-born Muslims in their 20s who lived for years in Cherry Hill, are charged with conspiracy to kill military personnel, attempted murder and weapons offenses. They face life in prison if convicted.
Rocco Cipparone, the lawyer for defendant Mohamad Shnewer, quizzed Omar about his misbehavior, what he was getting for cooperating with the FBI, his investigative methods and his truthfulness.
Prosecutors have said that if Omar is helpful in the trial, they will ask customs officials to allow him to remain in the United States as a permanent resident or even a citizen.
In one lengthy exchange, Cipparone asked Omar repeatedly if he wanted to remain in the country.
Omar's answers, given in Arabic through an interpreter, were rambling.
He said he wanted to return to Egypt, explaining, "I want to stay where it is safe for me and my kids."
He gave a similar reason for wanting to remain in the United States. "In all honesty," he said, "I will be staying here with my kids."
In response to the same questions, he said he is in danger because he is helping the U.S. government. "I know that someone is going to put a gun to me," he said. "This will happen to me. I did the right thing and God bless America."
Cipparone played a recording made in the investigation in which Omar described how to create a fake title from a stolen car and export it overseas. In the recording, he said he used to do that, but not anymore.
He said the terrorist attacks on America in 2001 made it harder for Muslims to get away with crimes. "Before Sept. 11, he can do a lot of fraud. Nobody looking at you."
He never directly answered several questions about whether he exported stolen cars, instead responding, "Never in my life did I steal a car."
Under questioning, Omar said that just last month the FBI negotiated terms for him to pay back more than $4,000 to Commerce Bank, which he defrauded nearly four years ago.
He said he would not have considered returning the money if the government didn't tell him he would be prosecuted if he didn't pay it back.
At times, the thin, balding Omar was combative. More than once, he answered Cipparone's question in English before waiting for the queries to be translated.
Cross-examination continues Thursday and is expected to continue for much of next week.