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High security expected for sentencing in Ft. Dix plot case

Emotions may be high during the hearings of five Muslims who were convicted of plotting an attack on the Army base in New Jersey.

April 26, 2009|Associated Press

CAMDEN, N.J. — Since they were convicted last year of conspiring to kill military personnel, five immigrants have been busy -- and at times erratic.

Eljvir Duka, one of three brothers convicted, wrote a letter to the judge in the case seeking to convert him to Islam.

Duka and Serdar Tatar have tried to dismiss their court-appointed lawyers -- but changed their minds.

While maintaining his innocence, Mohamad Shnewer has apologized for inadvertently dragging his friends into the case.

As a group, they're pursuing a lawsuit to try to get out of a tightly restricted section of the federal detention center in Philadelphia.

And a few of them were part of a courtroom disruption, yelling, "Allahu akbar," Arabic for "God is great." The commotion was quickly calmed.

It all suggests that emotions will run high on Tuesday and Wednesday when the men -- or at least some of them -- and their relatives and friends speak in court before a judge metes out their punishment.

"There's a generalized concern that there may be some acting out" by relatives of the convicted men, said Michael Riley, the lawyer for one of the five, Shain Duka. "They're upset. There's a lot of bad feelings and tempers."

Courthouse security, which was tightened for the trial, is expected to be at a high level again for the sentencings.

The sentencings could be the last time any of the convicts are in the federal courthouse in Camden, N.J.

Government prosecutors have not publicly revealed what sentences they're seeking. But under law, each man could get life in prison -- and there's no indication the government is looking to give anyone a break. Two -- Shain and Dritan Duka -- could each face two life sentences.

"I anticipate some really big numbers," Riley said.

When the men were arrested in May 2007, the government characterized them as dangerous homegrown plotters who were considering attacking soldiers at Ft. Dix, an Army base in New Jersey used mainly to train reservists for duty in Iraq.

At the time, all the men were in their 20s. All had lived for years in the Philadelphia suburb of Cherry Hill, N.J., and worked jobs such as installing roofs, driving cabs and helping run convenience stores.

The investigation began early in 2006, when a clerk at a Circuit City store reported that some men had asked him to convert from video to DVD a movie that showed the men, and others, firing guns and yelling, "Allahu akbar."

Their trial last year stretched from October through December, with much of the testimony coming from a pair of paid government informants with criminal histories.

A jury found the defendants guilty of conspiracy to commit murder, but acquitted them on attempted murder charges.

Four of them were also convicted on weapons charges.

There will be some legal issues that may have to be resolved. Sentencing guidelines call for stiffer penalties for people convicted in terrorism cases and those whose victims are government employees.

Richard Sparaco, the lawyer for Tatar, said there could be arguments about how those rules should be applied.

All three Duka brothers are to be sentenced Tuesday. Shnewer and Tatar are to be sentenced Wednesday.

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