CAMDEN, N.J. – An FBI informant testified Monday that five men accused of plotting to kill soldiers at Fort Dix shopped for guns and practiced firing them during a trip to Pennsylvania they intended as training for a holy war.
Besnik Bakalli said he had hoped the week in Pennsylvania's Pocono Mountains in February 2007 would be merely a relaxing vacation.
Deputy U.S. Attorney William Fitzpatrick asked him what the trip turned out to be.
"Training, for jihad," Bakalli responded.
He said the men talked constantly about Islam, war between the Muslim world and America, guns, and their respect for Usama bin Laden. They also shopped for guns, went to firing ranges and played paintball during the trip.
No attack at the Army base in New Jersey ever took place. Defense lawyers deny the defendants were seriously planning anything.
Bakalli, 31, is the second of two government informants to testify. The five defendants, all in their 20s at the time of their May 2007 arrests, are foreign-born Muslims who lived for years in Pennsylvania.
Bakalli testified that the FBI offered him work as an informant while he was in jail in 2006 as the government tried to have him deported. He had been convicted of but pardoned for a shooting in his native Albania, and said he accepted the offer hoping to stay in the United States.
In July 2006, his handlers sent him to make contact with three Albanian-speaking brothers — Dritan, Eljvir and Shain Duka — in a Dunkin' Donuts shop. He got the men's attention by speaking on his cell phone in Albanian, and they drank coffee together that day. Within weeks, he was going to their mosque.
He testified he didn't understand at first why his handlers sent him there, but a few weeks later learned why the men might seem dangerous to authorities: On a fishing trip to the Jersey shore, the men laughed as they showed him videos of American troops being shot by snipers in Iraq and U.S. military vehicles exploding.
"I was scared," Bakalli told jurors. "I never saw these videos before. I'm thinking, 'Who are these people and what am I doing here?"'
The three brothers and two other men are charged with conspiracy to kill military personnel, attempted murder and weapons offenses. If convicted, they could face life in prison.
The government built the case against them largely with hundreds of hours of secret recordings made by Bakalli and another paid informant, Mahmoud Omar, who testified earlier.