CAMDEN, N.J. – The government argued Tuesday that one of five men accused of plotting to attack soldiers on the Fort Dix military base was more sophisticated and independent than he was portrayed by his lawyer.
Mohamad Shnewer was not a bumbling young man under the influence of a paid government informant, as his lawyer suggested, an FBI agent told jurors Tuesday in the 19th day of the Fort Dix trial.
Shnewer's lawyer, Rocco Cipparone, has told jurors that Shnewer talked about an attack with the informant, Mahmoud Omar, but that he didn't really want to do it. And he has said that steps he took toward one came at the informant's behest.
The five accused men, all in their 20s at the time of the arrests, are foreign-born Muslims who lived for years in the comfortable Philadelphia suburb of Cherry Hill. No attack was carried out.
They're charged with conspiracy to kill military personnel, attempted murder and weapons offenses. If convicted, the men could face life in prison. Prosecutors say the plot is one of the most frightening examples of homegrown terrorism.
Defense lawyers deny the men were seriously planning anything. They note that Omar was being paid $1,500 a week to inform for the government.
On Tuesday, FBI agent Michael Parmigiani gave a different view of Shnewer.
He testified that on Aug. 11, 2006 — the same day that Shnewer and Omar drove to Fort Dix to look around — Shnewer went took a second drive alone. This time, he traveled to Fort Monmouth, a military installation about an hour from Fort Dix.
Parmigiani said Shnewer took a circuitous route toward a main road to the base on the Jersey shore, and then pulled into a Wawa convenience store in what Parmigiani called an apparent "surveillance detection maneuver."
Shnewer didn't get out of his car, but rather drove back in the direction he had come from, then made a U-turn to head again toward the shore, the agent told jurors.
It was the kind of misdirection that Parmigiani said is used to try to shake investigators.
Parmigiani said Shnewer, a 23-year-old former cab driver who was born in Jordan, fought Friday evening traffic for three hours before reaching the front gate of Fort Monmouth, slowing down, then making a U-turn and heading back toward home.
The government contends Shnewer made another late-night trip past Fort Dix on his way home to Cherry Hill.