Six Men Arrested in Plot to Attack New Jersey’s Fort Dix
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JIM LEHRER: Next, the foiled plot to attack an army base in New Jersey. Gwen Ifill has our story.
GWEN IFILL: The plot federal agents said they disrupted last night in New Jersey sprang from a single tip received by authorities 16 months ago. Tonight, six men are in federal custody, charged with planning an attack designed to target hundreds of U.S. soldiers at the Fort Dix Army base.
For more on the investigation, we’re joined now by U.S. attorney for the district of New Jersey, Christopher Christie.
Welcome, Mr. Christie.
CHRISTOPHER CHRISTIE, U.S. Attorney, New Jersey: It’s good to be here.
GWEN IFILL: Tell us about these men who are under arrest tonight. Who are they? And what motivated them, that we know of?
CHRISTOPHER CHRISTIE: Well, what we know about them, Gwen, is that they are people who were — three of them here illegally in the United States, three of them here legally — and what they planned over a long period of time, 16 months while we were surveilling them, was a plan to go and attack Fort Dix and to kill as many American soldiers as they possibly could.
GWEN IFILL: Describe to me the surveillance which you conducted over the 16 months and the training that was underway, for instance, that you wrote in the charging documents of everything from target practice in the Poconos to paintball exchanges.
CHRISTOPHER CHRISTIE: Well, very early on in this investigation, the FBI got a tip from a store clerk who had gotten a video that these people wanted dubbed into a DVD. And he saw that what the materials were on there, which was pictures and videos of them practicing in the Poconos, shooting in military garb, screaming out jihadist statements.
He called his local police department, who got in touch with the FBI. Thereafter, we were able to infiltrate the organization, with cooperating witnesses who gained the trust of the people in this terror cell. And they then went on a course of covert surveillance, trying to see how they can infiltrate Fort Dix.
They had someone in their group who was very familiar with Fort Dix, drew maps from memory. And then they were planned and ready to go to attack Fort Dix.
The last thing they wanted to do was to obtain automatic weapons, AK-47s and M-16s. Those were delivered last night to them in inoperable form by the FBI, cooperating witnesses, and that’s when we arrested them.
Looking at different military bases
GWEN IFILL: Why Fort Dix?
CHRISTOPHER CHRISTIE: Fort Dix -- they were looking at a number of different military installations in the U.S., Dover Air Force Base, Lakehurst Naval Station. They were looking at a Coast Guard station in Philadelphia.
Fort Dix they ultimately settled on because one of the defendants, Mr. Tatar, had delivered pizza into Fort Dix on numerous occasions from a family pizzeria that his family owns right on the outskirts of Fort Dix. He knew the ins and outs. He had been on that base countless times, driven around it, and knew where to go, and where these soldiers stayed, where they trained, and that's why they focused on Fort Dix.
GWEN IFILL: Was it significant in any way that four of the men you arrested were Muslims born in Yugoslavia?
CHRISTOPHER CHRISTIE: Well, they were Albanians, Gwen, to be specific.
GWEN IFILL: All right.
CHRISTOPHER CHRISTIE: And the only significance of that is that they were like-minded individuals. They all were downloading videos from the Internet with inspirational jihadist messages from Osama bin Laden. Two of them had downloaded the video last will and testaments of two of the 19 September 11th hijackers.
These were people who were prepared for martyrdom. They shared a common goal: to try to commit jihad here in the United States. And they had a single-minded purpose. And one of them even expressed it on one of our consensual tape recordings. They said, "We want to kill as many American soldiers as we possibly can at one time."
GWEN IFILL: When you say consensual tape recorders, you don't mean the person who was being recorded was consenting, but your informant was taping these people say these things?
CHRISTOPHER CHRISTIE: Correct.
Inspired by jihadist examples
GWEN IFILL: So you talk about that video, downloaded will and final testament of the two 9/11 plotters. Does that establish a connection between these guys and the 9/11 plotters or was it that they just downloaded it from a public place?
CHRISTOPHER CHRISTIE: It doesn't establish any connection, Gwen. What it establishes, in our view, is that they were inspired by these type of jihadist examples.
And so we're not contending they had any connection with an international terror organization, but we are very strongly saying they were inspired by the international Islamic jihadist movement. And they were attempting to bring that brand of violence right here to the state of New Jersey.
GWEN IFILL: So we hear so much about al-Qaida, but you don't have any evidence to support the notion that these men were directed by or had any connection at all to a larger international terrorist conspiracy?
CHRISTOPHER CHRISTIE: Quite to the contrary, Gwen, we don't contend that they were. We believe this was a homegrown terror cell, inspired by al-Qaida and inspired by al-Qaida readings and writings that they downloaded from the Internet, and that they were planning their own contribution to the international jihad against the people they referred to as the infidels. And they were prepared to die in the process.
GWEN IFILL: Now, throughout the charging documents, there are lots of quotes from them saying pretty alarmist things, like how many hundreds of Americans they wanted to kill, and laughing over videos of attacks on American military.
Do you think that there was some concern on their part that the military had to be the target? Or was this something they were just going for the largest attack they could, in a civilian sense? For instance, there was discussion about an Army-Navy game attack. Was that just throwing things out there?
CHRISTOPHER CHRISTIE: Well, the Army-Navy game attack, I think, again, was a discussion of where there would be a large concentration of American military personnel, which we know is what occurs at the Army-Navy game, an enormous amount of American military personnel there and West Point cadets and midshipman from Annapolis.
And so they were looking for a concentration of American military personnel, where they could kill as many as possible, as quickly as possible.
Deciding to move in
GWEN IFILL: Sixteen-month investigation, how did you decide when to finally move in?
CHRISTOPHER CHRISTIE: Gwen, they were moving to the very final stage of their planning. They were in the process of attempting to obtain AK-47s, M-16s, and RPGs, rocket-propelled grenades. They were looking to obtain those things. That was the last thing they were going to need to do...
GWEN IFILL: They didn't have them yet, but they had them on order?
CHRISTOPHER CHRISTIE: Well, they were attempting to do it, and they were attempting to get those weapons from the cooperating witness with the FBI who had infiltrated the organization. And so what we were doing at that point was, once they got to that last stage, we believe, after having surveilled them for 16 months, that we had everyone who was involved in the plot surrounded and that we were ready to take it down.
GWEN IFILL: Should other military installations be concerned tonight? Should they be tightening security?
CHRISTOPHER CHRISTIE: I think that everyone in America should use this case as a reminder that the war on terror is real. It's happening every day in America. Law enforcement is working every day to try to keep us safe.
And I think all of us should use this as a wake-up call that we need to continue to be vigilant. We need to continue to contribute like this store clerk did by calling local law enforcement when he saw something that he thought was unusual. Local law enforcement immediately called the FBI, and we were off to the races on a 16-month investigation that, I believe, saved American lives.
GWEN IFILL: Christopher Christie, U.S. attorney for the district of New Jersey, thank you very much for joining us.
CHRISTOPHER CHRISTIE: Gwen, thank you for having me.