Fort Dix Plot Case Starts Monday

CAMDEN, N.J. (AP) -- The arrests seemed like a startling wake-up call to America: Federal authorities said a group of would-be terrorists were foiled in a plot to sneak onto a New Jersey military base and kill soldiers.

The federal government argues that the May 2007 capture of Serdar Tatar, Mohamad Ibrahim Shnewer and the brothers Dritan, Eljvir and Shain Duka saved innocent lives. Defense lawyers contend there was no plot and that the government paid people to get them to discuss one. Opening arguments were due to be made Monday.

The case will be watched closely because it represents a type of pre-emptive prosecution that has grown more common in U.S. terrorism cases since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks - which troubles some experts.

The five defendants - all foreign-born Muslim men in their 20s who have spent much of their lives in the southern New Jersey suburbs of Philadelphia - face charges of attempted murder, conspiracy and weapons offenses and could be sentenced to life in prison if convicted on all counts.

It took most of three weeks just to seat 12 jurors and six alternates from a pool of 1,500 potential jurors. The seated jury includes four men and eight women, one of whom is the mother of a veteran who was wounded in Iraq.

More than 200 people are on the list of potential witnesses in the trial, which is expected to stretch into December.

Government prosecutors are expected to portray the men as hateful to America and sympathetic to terrorists.

Defense lawyers had been trying to get evidence that the men had anti-Semitic views barred from trial. They also tried to prevent government prosecutors from showing videos that the men allegedly watched that included scenes of Americans being beheaded in Iraq.

U.S. District Judge Robert Kugler said prosecutors could present that evidence. But he said the videos must be stopped before any actual beheadings are shown.

Authorities said the five prepared for an attack by scouting out military bases, buying weapons and by training in paintball games and a shooting range in the Pocono mountains of Pennsylvania.

The case is complicated because no attack was carried out. Prosecutors are trying to prove not only that they arrested the right men, but that the suspects were planning a crime.

Defense lawyers are likely to argue that while their clients may have spoken ill of America and even rooted for terrorists, that does not mean they intended to kill soldiers. They will also question the character, motives and role of two paid government informants who made hundreds of hours of secret recordings that form the bulk of the evidence in the trial.

Lawyers for the suspects have suggested that if there was a plot, informants prodded their clients into it.

© 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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