Hyping Another Terrorist Threat:
Much Ado About the Fort Dix Pizza Plot
Tuesday May 22, 2007
To listen to government officials and the mainstream media, the
six New Jersey men arrested for allegedly plotting an attack on
the Fort Dix military base were well organized and nearly "ready
But like all of the government's claimed victories in "fighting
terrorism," there are disturbing holes in the story that should
raise questions about scapegoating and scaremongering.
The U.S. attorney's office in New Jersey announced May 8 that five
men--Jordanian-born U.S. citizen Mohamad Ibrahim Shnewer; Turkish-born
legal U.S. resident Serdar Tatar; and brothers Dritan, Eljvir and
Shain Duka, ethnic Albanians from the former Yugoslavia who were
reportedly in the U.S. illegally--had been charged with "plotting
to kill as many soldiers as possible in an armed assault at the
Fort Dix Army base."
A sixth defendant, Agron Abdullahu, a legal resident also from
the former Yugoslavia, is charged with illegally holding weapons
for the others.
The FBI says it learned of the supposed plot when the men went
to a Circuit City store and asked a clerk to transfer a jihad training
video of themselves onto a DVD. They were arrested after allegedly
attempting to purchase weapons from an undercover FBI agent.
According to the government, the men had conducted surveillance
on Fort Dix, obtained computerized ballistic simulations and stolen
a map of Fort Dix from a pizza shop located near the base in order
to help plan their attack.
But the extent of their supposed military-style "training"
appears to be trips to a firing range in the Poconos and playing
paintball in the woods. According to the Washington Post, the indictment
against the men "indicates that the group had no rigorous military
training and did not appear close to being able to pull off an attack."
Nor do court papers indicate that the suspects themselves were
convinced of their own supposed plan. At one point, for example,
they express doubt at the thought of obtaining automatic weapons--noting
that they are, after all, illegal.
The media's reports on the arrests immediately deemed the six as
"Muslim fanatics" and "Jersey jihadists." But
some of the men were known to be not particularly religious. In
fact, according to the New York Times, investigators have quietly
admitted that "there is little indication that they were devout--or
Perhaps most troubling, however, is the FBI's use of two paid "informants"
in the case. One of the informants, according to the Times, "railed
against the United States, helped scout out military installations
for attack, offered to introduce his comrades to an arms dealer
and gave them a list of weapons he could procure, including machine
guns and rocket-propelled grenades."
That begs the question: how far would the supposed "plot"
have gone had the FBI not been there to push it forward?
In fact, in November, Tatar himself contacted police in Philadelphia,
telling a sergeant he had been approached by a man who "pressured
him to acquire maps of Fort Dix." He even told the sergeant
he was worried that that "the incident was terrorist-related."
The Feds claim that Tatar was simply trying to throw off suspicion
and determine if the first informer was a plant. But the fact that
one of the defendants in a supposed terrorist cell actually called
police to report possible terrorist activity raises serious questions
about the truth of the government's claims.
* * *
Over-hyped declarations about terrorism prosecutions are nothing
new for Bush administration. It has announced one high-profile terrorism
case after another, but few have ever been substantiated, and many
more have been riddled with racism, entrapment and abuses.
Last fall, for example, several men of Middle Eastern descent were
arrested in separate incidents in Ohio and Michigan on terrorism
charges. They had aroused suspicion by buying too many cell phones--and,
in one case, taking pictures of a bridge. Charges were later quietly
dropped, but not until after the government smeared the men in the
media as potential terrorists.
A similar pattern has played out in the case of seven men of Haitian
descent arrested in Florida last year on charges that they were
plotting to blow up Chicago's Sears Tower.
Though the charges are still pending, the case against the men
rests on little more than the fact that they allegedly gave an FBI
informant lists of shoe sizes in order to purchase military boots
for them. Even the FBI was forced to admit that the plan was more
"aspirational than operational."
As a recent editorial in the Palm Beach Post commented, "[A]nyone
heard lately about the so-called 'Miami 7'? The Justice Department
with much ballyhoo last year claimed the five U.S. citizens, one
legal permanent resident and one Haitian national had conspired
with al-Qaeda 'to levy war against the United States'...But Justice
may face an uphill climb to show how the men were anything other
than poor, unsophisticated street vendors and easy dupes when the
government's agent came casting suggestion."
Then there is so-called "dirty-bomber" Jose Padilla,
who spent more than three years in solitary confinement in a military
brig as an officially designated enemy combatant for allegedly plotting
to take part in an al-Qaeda plot to detonate a radioactive bomb
inside the U.S.
When the Bush administration suddenly announced in November 2005
that federal criminal charges had been filed against Padilla, the
indictment made no mention of the dirty bomb plot or most of the
other original charges.
Today, Padilla's lawyers say he has been so psychologically damaged
by the physical and psychological abuse he suffered at the hands
of the government that he can no longer participate in his own defense.
Likewise, former University of South Florida professor Sami Al-Arian
remains in prison today despite the fact that a jury acquitted him
of the most serious terrorism charges against him and deadlocked
on several lesser counts.
To end his imprisonment and be reunited with his family, Al-Arian
agreed to plead guilty to a single count of supporting the nonviolent
activities of a Palestinian charity. Yet his release date has come
and gone, and he remains behind bars--because federal prosecutors
now claim he is a "material witness" to other trumped-up
terrorism prosecutions, and want to force him to testify.
Despite government assertions, the truth is that Al-Arian has been
prosecuted for his political beliefs and defense of Palestinian
rights--not for any "terrorism."
* * *
A closer look at the government's own records show that the "war
on terror" has yielded few convictions.
Late last year, a study by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse
(TRAC) at Syracuse University found that in the first eight months
of 2006, the Justice Department prosecuted 46 international terrorism
cases--but declined to bring charges in 209 cases that the FBI or
other agencies had referred, frequently because of a lack of real
"It is clear that the prosecutors are deciding that a lot
of the investigations being recommended do not cut the mustard and
do not meet their standards," David Burnham, the co-director
of TRAC, told the New York Times.
In all, the study found that in nearly 6,500 cases treated as "terrorism"
investigations by the Justice Department since September 11, only
about one in five defendants have been convicted.
And the average sentence for those convicted in "international
terrorism" cases was just 20 to 28 days, and many received
no jail time at all, the study found. The reason: Many of these
cases involve lesser charges like immigration violations or fraud.
In other words, the prosecutions that the government labels as
being about "terrorism" are almost never actually about
In fact, a February audit released by the Justice Department's
inspector general found that the department usually "could
not provide support for the numbers reported or could not identify
the terrorism link used to classify statistics as terrorism-related."
Convictions for immigration violations, marriage fraud and drug
trafficking were counted as "terrorism convictions" by
the Justice Department. Such cases included: charges brought against
a marriage-broker for being paid to arrange six fraudulent marriages
between Tunisians and U.S. citizens; the prosecution of a Mexican
citizen who falsely identified himself as another person in a passport
application; and the case of a suspect charged with dealing firearms
without a license.
As one anonymous former prosecutor recently told Truthout.org's
William Fisher, "U.S. attorneys are well aware of their bosses'
priorities. Since 9/11, all of them have been under pressure to
bring terrorism prosecutions.
"In many cases, that has led them and their superiors, as
well as prominent politicians, to call high-profile press conferences
where they announce terrorism charges against people, but when they
show up in court, there are no actual terrorism charges."
BECAUSE THERE'S A WAR ON FOR YOUR MIND