CHERRY HILL, N.J. — Friends and neighbors of the men charged with plotting a rampage at New Jersey's Ft. Dix Army base said Wednesday that they had started to notice subtle changes in them: a new beard, a recently built backyard woodshed and talk of leisurely target shooting practice.
"We would always joke around," said 20-year-old Mario Tummilo, who used to work with suspect Serdar Tatar. They played basketball together and talked about Nikes, rap music and girls. "He was just like a normal American person."
Tummilo didn't think much of it when he brought up hunting season and Tatar -- a 23-year-old Turkish national -- mentioned that he shot guns in Pennsylvania with friends.
"It all makes sense now," Tummilo said. "They must have been planning this for a long time."
Tatar, who used to deliver pizza, was one of six foreign-born "radical Islamists" charged Tuesday in an alleged plot that involved an attack with machine guns and semiautomatic weapons. Those who knew the young suspects say there were no hints that they hated the United States. They seemed to blend right into their quiet communities, taking jobs at the local 7-11 or driving a cab. Tummilo said that Tatar, who prayed during his shifts in the back of his father's pizza parlor, talked about Islamic principles of peace and nonviolence.
Three brothers -- Eljvir Duka, 23, Dritan Duka, 28, and Shain Duka, 26 -- were ethnic Albanians from the former Yugoslavia who worked at a family roofing business in Cherry Hill. Authorities say they were living in the U.S. illegally. Mohamad Ibrahim Shnewer, 22, a native of Jordan, and Tatar are legal residents.
All five were charged with conspiracy to kill U.S. military personnel, which carries a maximum penalty of life in prison.
A sixth man -- Agron Abdullahu, 24, who was born in the former Yugoslavia and lived as a legal resident in Buena Vista Township, N.J. -- was charged with aiding and abetting an illegal weapons purchase.
On Wednesday, one Justice Department official said authorities were seeking evidence linking Abdullahu to the plot.
Several FBI and Justice Department officials said they were certain that the plot began and ended with the six men in custody -- despite some suggestions in court documents that there were other accomplices.
According to an FBI affidavit unsealed Tuesday, the six were accompanied to a shooting range by four other men in their 20s. All of them, the document said, fired weapons and shouted "God is great" in Arabic and made other suspicious comments.
In a conversation reportedly taped by an FBI informant, Shain Duka also stated: "Because as far as people, we have enough, seven people," the FBI affidavit said. "And we are all crazy. That's what is needed...."
The court documents did not explain who the seventh suspect might be. But on Wednesday, authorities said they were not looking for anyone else believed to have played a role in the alleged plot.
A senior FBI counterterrorism official, who requested anonymity when discussing the ongoing investigation, said that the six men were a homegrown cell -- with no ties to international terrorist groups or to any kind of criminal element in the former Yugoslavia or among ethnic Albanians here or overseas.
"We don't have any sense, and we did lots of [intelligence] collection, to show that there is anything whatsoever to do with Albania or Yugoslavia," he said in knocking down rumors that had surfaced on the Internet and among some terrorism experts.
On Mimosa Drive in Cherry Hill, the blinds on a two-story house where the three brothers lived stayed closed Wednesday, and the place appeared vacant as neighbors drove by and slowed to stare and point.
With its stone garden, potted flowers and overgrown grass, neighbors said, it used to be a bustling place where at least 10 people lived. Han Seung Koh, the Duka brothers' next-door neighbor, said children and older women were part of the household.
The brothers parked old pickup trucks and junk cars in the driveway and on the street, Koh said.
Once, he complained that one of the cars had been an eyesore in front of his house for two months. Family members, Koh said, explained that they repaired the cars to earn money. Days later, one of the brothers moved the vehicle.
"Our street is a very quiet street," Koh said, "except for that family." The children played soccer in the street and different people streamed in and out of the house. In the summer, Koh heard them praying in front of their home.
One of the brothers loaned Koh his gardening tool to trim his tree. "They always said hello first and waved their hands to us," he said. "They were very nice to us."
A few miles away, neighbors said Shnewer and his family were not so friendly.
"They didn't look our way when they came in and out of the house," said Dorothea Sears, who has lived across the street from Shnewer on Tampa Avenue. "There was no way we could acknowledge them."
Steve Bender, who lives across the street from the split-level house, said: "They didn't talk to anybody. They were very rude."
It looked like several families lived in the house, which is one of the biggest on the block, Bender said. Two or three cabs would be parked outside. Shnewer was a taxicab driver in Philadelphia, according to authorities.
"Cars pulled up [in front of the house] from all over the United States. New York, Delaware, Canada," Bender said. "They would take boxes in and out."
Bender said he noticed police showed up at the house once last year, but he didn't know why.
Bender, who has a son in the military, said he could not believe his neighbor had been arrested in the Ft. Dix plot. "Right across the street, in your own backyard, and this is happening."
Hayasaki reported from New Jersey and Meyer from Washington.