PHILADELPHIA - Five Muslim immigrants accused of scheming to massacre U.S. soldiers at Fort Dix were convicted of conspiracy Monday in a case that tested the FBI's post-Sept. 11 strategy of infiltrating and breaking up terrorist plots in their earliest stages.
The men could get life in prison when they are sentenced in April.
The five, who lived in and around Philadelphia for years, were found guilty of conspiring to kill U.S. military personnel. But they were acquitted of attempted murder, after prosecutors acknowledged the men were probably months away from an attack and did not necessarily have a specific plan. Four defendants were also convicted of weapons charges.
The federal jury deliberated for 38 hours over six days.
"I think the verdicts reflect both the strength and weakness of the government's case," said CBS News legal analyst Andrew Cohen. "Jurors believed clearly that the men were up to no good, and there was certainly some evidence to support that, but also that they didn't actually do enough to warrant a conviction on attempted murder."
The government said after the arrests in 2007 that case underscored the dangers of terrorist plots hatched on U.S. soil. Although investigators said the conspirators were inspired by Osama bin Laden, they were not accused of any ties to foreign terror groups.
Defense lawyers argued that the alleged plot was all talk — that the men weren't seriously planning anything and that they were manipulated and goaded by two paid FBI informants.
Faten Shnewer, the mother of defendant Mohamad Shnewer, said the informants should be the ones in jail. "Not my son and his friends. It's not right, it's not justice," she said after the verdict. The government "sent somebody to push him to say something; that's it."
Convicted were: Shnewer, a Jordanian-born cab driver; Turkish-born convenience store clerk Serdar Tatar; and brothers Dritan, Eljvir and Shain Duka, ethnic Albanians from the former Yugoslavia, who had a roofing business. A sixth man arrested and charged only with gun offenses pleaded guilty earlier.
"I don't think we'll see life sentences for any of these men. I think the judge will not go immediately to the high end of the sentencing range and of course how much time they serve also depends upon whether their appeals are successful," Cohen said.
The government said the men were targeting New Jersey's Fort Dix for an attack but had also conducted surveillance at New Jersey's Fort Monmouth, Dover Air Force Base in Delaware and other military installations, and had talked about assaulting some of those spots. The jury did not have to find that the men had any specific target in mind to convict them.