Some of the six men played paintball together and took target practice in the Poconos. One delivered pizzas to Fort Dix, the sprawling Army base in New Jersey.
Such unremarkable activities, though, form part of the backbone of a federal conspiracy case against the men—all Muslims, all immigrants—for allegedly plotting to kill at least 100 soldiers at Fort Dix. Their motive, according to a federal indictment: a perception that Islam is under attack.
But for many security experts, the men’s motivation is what serves as the starkest warning. “The animosity felt toward the United States isn’t something just outside our borders,” says Bruce Hoffman, a professor of securities studies at Georgetown University in Washington. “There are obviously people inside this country who have the same hostility and are prepared to use violence.”
The men in New Jersey aren’t the first group arrested for allegedly plotting attacks against this country. In 2006, federal authorities arrested seven mostly inept militants in Miami for their alleged discussions about blowing up the Sears Tower in Chicago and the FBI’s Miami headquarters. In June 2003, government officials thwarted a plot to blow up the Brooklyn Bridge. And in 2002, authorities rounded up six Yemeni-Americans from Lackawanna, N.Y., for having ties with Al Qaeda.
According to the Justice Department, the latest group included three ethnic Albanians living here illegally, another ethnic Albanian living here legally, one Jordanian-born US citizen, and an ethnic Turk who lived in Philadelphia.
Muslims caution that the Muslim-American community should not be judged by the alleged actions of a few. “One must view it as isolated and the stuff of which Tom Clancy novels are made and the reality of modern terrorism,” says John Zogby, president of Zogby International in Utica, N.Y., whose polling firm has surveyed the Muslim-American community. “It is nothing intrinsic to the Muslim or Islamic experience in the US.”
Still, some experts point out that this group is not entirely unlike the group that carried out the London train and bus bombings in July 2005, or the group responsible for the Madrid train bombings in March 2004. European authorities, after those attacks, said that both terror cells were home grown and inspired by, but not directed by, Al Qaeda.
Al Qaeda’s number of targets
Jones has been tracking Al Qaeda attacks, and he says that through 2001, Al Qaeda averaged one attack per year. Since 9/11, he says, Al Qaeda has averaged about seven or eight attacks per year. “And they span a variety of places—in the Middle East, Asia, Europe,” he says.
Though no link between Al Qaeda and the New Jersey group has been established, the target allegedly picked by the group is a classic terror target: the military. “This is traditional terrorism,” says Dave Brannan, who teaches terrorism studies at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, Calif. “It’s a symbolic target coupled with the religious terrorism—the catharsis of killing many, not just one.”
The latest group made the mistake of taking a video of their training exercises into a Circuit City to be copied on a DVD. A vigilant clerk, observing on the tape the men firing automatic weapons, calling for “jihad,” and shouting “Allah Akbar” (God is great), phoned the police. This quickly led to the FBI’s investigation and infiltration of the group.
Summary of the allegations
In bringing conspiracy charges against five Muslim immigrants and a US citizen, the United States accuses them of the following ‘overt acts’:
JAN. 3, 2006: Five suspects practiced shooting guns in rural Gouldsboro, Pa.
AUG. 11-13, 2006: One suspect traveled to Fort Dix and Fort Monmouth in New Jersey, Dover Air Force Base in Delaware, and the US Coast Guard Building in Philadelphia for surveillance.
NOV. 28, 2006: A defendant obtained a map of Fort Dix to distribute to others in the group.
JAN. 31-FEB, 2, 2007: Three brothers collected weapons to be used in small-arms training and drive to Pennsylvania to practice shooting.
FEB. 4, 2007: Four men reviewed terrorist training videos.
FEB. 26, 2007: Two brothers shot paintball guns in the woods near their home in Cherry Hill, N.J.
MARCH 15, 2007: The two again took part in ‘paintball training’ near their home.
APRIL 6, 2007: A suspect ordered four AK-47 Kalishnikov automatic machine guns, as well M-16 firearms and handguns.
APRIL 27, 2007: A second suspect ordered an AK-47 Kalishnikov automatic machine gun.