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Judge: Fort Dix trial won't start with al-Qaida

Related article:
Fort Dix terror suspects' lives gave few clues

By Geoff Mulvihill
The Associated Press

CAMDEN, N.J. The men accused of plotting to kill soldiers at Fort Dix lost a string of pretrial motions on Friday, but they did win a key concession from a judge who said he would not mention al-Qaida at the start of the trial.

U.S. District Judge Robert Kugler rejected arguments from lawyers for the five men that references to al-Qaida and terrorist attacks be stricken from charging documents because they were prejudicial. However, he did agree not to read them to the jury at the start of a trial, as he normally would do.

Kugler said he could not strike the references entirely from the charging documents because he found it relevant to the government's case _ even though the government says the men were not connected with any international terrorist groups.

"They knowingly and willfully joined the same conspiracy with the same objective," Deputy U.S. Attorney William Fitzpatrick said.

The five men, all foreign-born Muslims in their 20s, were arrested in May 2007 and accused of plotting to attack soldiers on Fort Dix, a New Jersey Army installation used mainly to train reservists for deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan. The attack never happened.

The suspects would probably face life in prison if convicted of all counts, which include attempted murder and conspiracy to murder military personnel.

Kugler ruled against several other defense motions on Friday.

He said there was no need to move the trial. Kugler also said that the results of three searches can be shared with the jury and that the defendants should be tried together.

The five suspects are closely linked: Three are brothers and another is related by marriage; the fifth was a friend since high school. Some are roommates in cells at the Federal Detention Center in Philadelphia. They have even filed a lawsuit together alleging mistreatment at the jail.

But their strategies may be starting to diverge.

Troy Archie, the lawyer for Eljvir Duka, argued that his client should be tried separately, largely because he might be pointing his finger at another suspect, Mohamad Ibrahim Shnewer.

Shnewer's lawyer, Cipparone, read pieces of transcripts from some of the conversations the government recorded during the investigation. He said the conversations make it look as if informant Mahmoud Omar was a central figure in the suspected plot.

A third suspect, Serdar Tatar, tried unsuccessfully to bar some evidence seized from his apartment in searches. His lawyer called the searches "improper," partly because, he said, Tatar was no longer connected with any kind of conspiracy after December 2006.

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