Wednesday, May 9, 2007

The Jihad in my Backyard

The FBI arrested six men on Monday night who planned to attack Fort Dix. The six men were identified as Mohamad Shnewer, Dritan Duka, Eljuir Duka, Shain Duka, Serdar Tatar and Agron Abdullahu. Shnewer and the Duka brothers lived in Cherry Hill. Tatar lived in Philadelphia and Abdullahu lived in Buena Vista Township. Shnewer was from Jordan, the Duka brothers and Abdullahu were from the former Yugoslavia and Tatar was from Turkey. All were Muslims and all were waging war against the United States.
Except this wasn’t a conventional war. It was a stealth war, a hatred cloaked in radical Islam and vehement opposition to the citizens of this country. They would wage jihad inside the United States by attacking the military.
The terror cell conducted surveillance on several possible targets – Fort Monmouth, the Philadelphia Coast Guard Base, the Dover Air Force Base and Fort Dix. They settled on Fort Dix because a family member of one of the would-be terrorists owns a pizzeria next to Fort Dix and he delivered food into the base.
The group practiced shooting automatic weapons at a firing range in the Pocono Mountains. They videotaped themselves training and downloaded the last will and testament from two of the September 11 hijackers to use as models for their own wills.
But their plot was foiled when one of the members took a videotape of their training exercises to a camera store to be transferred to a DVD as a recruiting tool. A store clerk notified the FBI and surveillance of the terror cell began. This was 16 months ago.
The last part of their plot involved obtaining automatic weapons including AK-47s, M-16 rifles and rocket propelled grenades (RPGs) to overpower the guard posts and storm Ft. Dix, where they would “kill hundreds of American soldiers.”
Fortunately, the FBI infiltrated the group with a confidential witness, who surreptitiously taped the meetings outlining the plot. The FBI and Joint Terrorist Task Force arrested the suspects and foiled the plot.
Though the plot and the goals of the terror cell are disturbing, what’s even more troubling is its proximity to where I grew up.
Cherry Hill is my old hometown. My family lived there most of my life. My parents still live there in the same house they have lived in for 30 years. I graduated from Cherry Hill East High School in 1988. I hung out at the Cherry Hill Mall. I remember the Ellisburg Circle, walked around nearby Haddonfield, jogged in Camden County Municipal Park and liked the quiet tree-lined suburbia of Barclay Farm.
Cherry Hill was always a safe haven, a security blanket wrapped up in the model homes and affluence and shopping centers. It’s a very diverse place, where residents came in all colors, nationalities, political, and religious affiliations.
And it’s where a group of Albanian Muslims met at the 500 Park Boulevard where Dritan Duka lived and plotted to kill American soldiers.
Eljvir and Shain Duka lived in the 215 Mimosa Drive, a residence neighbors in Cherry Hill dubbed “The Terrorist House.”
Shain Duka graduated Cherry Hill West High School in 1997, Tatar graduated in 2001, and Shnewer graduated in 2002.
Nobody suspected them of planning anything of heinous and so violent, or where their true loyalties were. It’s a weird feeling that the town your grew up in and the place you thought immune to terrorism housed radical Islamists. Terror cells were shadowy, secretive things, hidden in small back rooms in ethnic neighborhoods near mosques, plotting and planning in private. They were in New York and Boston and Chicago. They were in Midwestern backwaters and remote communities where they could hide unnoticed.
This is a dangerous and chaotic world we live in, and terrorists live in our backyards. They plot and scheme and train and receive e-mails and good wishes from Al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden and Hamas and a number of militant groups. The day after the suspects were caught, U.S. Attorney Christopher Christie told a group of businesspeople at a chamber of commerce meeting in Ocean City, “They didn’t come from some foreign land and parachute in here all of a sudden. They lived among us in Cherry Hill, New Jersey in a typical New Jersey suburban community.”

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