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FBI Pins Fort Dix Plot on 'Homegrown' Terrorists

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning. I'm Steve Inskeep.

REBECCA ROBERTS, host:

And I'm Rebecca Roberts in for Renee Montagne.

The New Jersey men who were arrested for allegedly plotting to attack soldiers at Fort Dix led seemingly ordinary lives. They had jobs. They lived in Cherry Hill, a leafy suburb just outside of Philadelphia. They came home to apartments in brick buildings filled with working-class Russians, Yugoslavians and Albanians. But prosecutors say this group personifies the new face of terrorism.

NPR's Dina Temple-Raston reports.

DINA TEMPLE-RASTON: Take a look at the six Muslims who allegedly wanted to kill hundreds of soldiers at Fort Dix and you'd see nothing out of the ordinary. They were convenience store clerks and roofers and cab drivers and pizza deliverymen. One, Yugoslav Eljvir Duka, went by the nickname Elvis. Serdar Tatar was born in Turkey. He sometimes went by the nickname Tony. And all that normalcy is exactly what worries FBI agent JP Weiss.

Agent JP WEISS (Federal Bureau of Investigation): These homegrown terrorists can prove to be as dangerous as any known group, if not more so. They operate under the radar. Today, we dodged a bullet. In fact, when you look at the type of weapons that this group was trying to purchase, we may have dodged a lot of bullets.

TEMPLE-RASTON: Prosecutors are the first to say the discovery of this plot was a lucky break. A Mount Laurel shopkeeper alerted the police to a disturbing video he had been asked to copy onto a DVD. It allegedly showed 10 young men shooting assault weapons at a firing range while calling for jihad and praising Allah.

U.S. attorney Christopher Christie said they weren't bound by a particular complaint, just an ideology.

Mr. CHRISTOPHER CHRISTIE (U.S. Attorney, District of New Jersey): The philosophy that supports and encourages jihad around the world against Americans came to live here in New Jersey, and threatened the lives of our citizens through these offenders. Fortunately, law enforcement in New Jersey was here to stop them.

TEMPLE-RASTON: All told, the group included brothers from Yugoslavia, a Jordanian and a young man from Turkey. All had been in the United States for years. Three had been here illegally, two had green cards, and one was a citizen. But together, Weiss said, they formed a platoon intent on taking on the Army.

Prosecutors said they were arrested now, after 15 months of surveillance, because they have been trying to buy weapons that would be the final piece in their plan.

Mr. WEISS: They'd identified their target. They did the reconnaissance. They had maps. And they were in the process of buying weapons. Luckily, we were able to stop that.

TEMPLE-RASTON: Prosecutors said they had considered many installations for an attack.

Mr. WEISS: They also covertly surveyed not only Fort Dix, but other installations here in New Jersey and in Philadelphia. Fort Monmouth, Dover Air Force base in Delaware, the Lake Hurst Naval Station and the Coast Guard building on Delaware Avenue in Philadelphia.

TEMPLE-RASTON: Twenty-three-year-old Serdar Tatar allegedly said he was prepared to martyr himself. One of his Cherry Hill neighbors, who declined to be named, said he'd known Tatar since he was a student at Cherry Hill West High School. He had helped him deliver pizzas. Other neighbors of the men declined to talk, or claimed they hardly new them. The men have been charged with conspiring to kill U.S. servicemen. They have been held without bail until another hearing scheduled for Friday.

Dina Temple-Raston, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Dina Temple-Raston is a correspondent on NPR's Investigations team focusing on breaking news stories and national security, technology and social justice.

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