By Troy Graham
INQUIRER STAFF WRITER
A federal jury today found the five foreign-born Muslim men guilty of conspiring to kill military personnel, but not guilty of attempted murder.
The verdict ends one of the country's most sensational cases of domestic terrorism, a case that garnered international headlines on May 7, 2007, when the defendants were arrested in coordinated raids.
The jury returned at 1:20 p.m. and was finished reading their verdict on the multiple charges at 1:35 p.m.
The judge read a statement from the jury, that said in part:
“The American justice system is a precious and fragile thing...This has been one of the most difficult things we have ever had to do...We have not reached our conclusion lightly…We are confident we have reached it fairly and impartially. We ask that our privacy be respected."
The eight woman four men have remained anonymous.
Convicted in the case were brothers Dritan, Shain and Eljvir Duka. Like all of the defendants, the brothers were born overseas, but raised in South Jersey. The Dukas immigrated illegally from the former Yugoslavia. Defendant Mohamad Shnewer was born in Jordan and is a U.S. citizen. Serdar Tatar, was born in Turkey and is a legal U.S. resident.
Shnewer, considered the lead defendant, accompanied Mahmoud Omar, a federal informant, on drives to Fort Dix, McGuire Air Force Base, Dover Air Force Base and other military installations. Prosecutors called the trips "surveillance" or "reconnaissance" for an attack. Omar captured hundreds of hours of conversations on a body wire. In many of those discussions, Shnewer talked of killing U.S. soldiers.
The Dukas also were captured on wiretaps talking incessantly of jihad and weapons. Many of those conversations were captured by a second FBI informant, Besnik Bakalli, an illegal Albanian immigrant who often spoke to the Dukas in their native language.
Bakalli accompanied the Dukas and others on a weeklong trip to the Poconos in February 2007. During the trip, the men fired at a shooting range several times, played paintball and shopped for guns at local stores. Prosecutors called the Poconos trip "training" for their mission. The defense said it was a vacation that also included horseback riding and swimming.
The defendants' plan, prosecutors said, was to use a pizza delivery pass to get on the base and open fire. Tatar's family owned a pizzeria near the base, and kept a map of the base in the shop. Tatar gave a map of the base to Omar, despite reaching out to a Philadelphia police sergeant with concerns about Omar's intentions.
None of the men had any connections to terrorists overseas, but prosecutors described them as a classic example of homegrown terrorists inspired by al-Qaeda and radical Islamic philosophy, mainly through watching videos and listening to lectures downloaded from the Internet.
Investigators found hundreds of jihadist videos on hard drives belonging to Shnewer and Eljvir Duka. Some of those videos were described by a prosecution expert as Hollywood-quality productions of al-Sahab, the media wing of al-Qaeda.
Defense attorneys argued their clients were harmless, alienated young men, lacking the capacity to carry out an attack. They said their clients did nothing more than talk tough about jihad, and pointed out a number of times on the wiretapped conversations when they shied away from making serious plans.
In fact, they noted, no final plan to attack the base ever was formulated. In many cases, the defense said, the men were unaware of the actions of the one another. Shnewer, for instance, did not know the two Duka brothers were buying guns.
The defense also vigorously attacked the informants, suggesting that Omar, in particular, goaded the young men along. Omar had been convicted of a federal bank fraud in 2002 and would have faced deportation at the completion of his sentence. The FBI paid him about $240,000 for his cooperation, the defense noted.
Bakalli twice tried to enter the country illegally, once giving up an asylum request to return to Albania, where he shot and wounded a man who had been threatening his sister in family "blood feud." In exchange for his cooperation, the government promised to help Bakalli with his immigration status and arranged to have his mother and father brought to the United States.