Jihadis in New Jersey?
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.Skip to next paragraph
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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.
To authorities making the arrests, the men signify that the threat of home-grown terrorist cells, inspired by Al Qaeda but not actually connected to it, is a very real one. To others, the six are an aberration, disavowed by Muslims in the US who see the alleged plot's violent intent as damaging their efforts to become part of the American fabric.
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.
Much later, "The Spanish and British found direct connections to Al Qaeda," says Seth Jones, an expert on terrorism at RAND Corp. in Washington. Contrary to what many people believe, he says, Al Qaeda's "numbers are increasing and their global breadth is increasing, and the US is a major target."
Zogby cautions, however, that the European Muslim experience is quite different than the American Muslim. "Here they assimilate: They buy into the American dream, and surveys suggest they succeed. They are not locked in as a permanent underclass."
Al Qaeda's number of targets
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.