Fort Dix terror suspects' lives gave few clues
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
CHERRY HILL, N.J. —Each summer, the family two doors down from Michael Levine in this affluent suburb of Philadelphia would bring over baskets of vegetables they had grown in their backyard.
The three brothers owned a roofing business, and the women in the ethnic Albanian family wore head scarves. They kept farm animals in the backyard until others in the neighborhood of tidy ranch houses complained, Levine said.
Authorities say the brothers' unremarkable blue-collar lives belied the mayhem they allegedly planned to unleash with others in a plot to kill hundreds of soldiers at Fort Dix. They and three other foreign-born Muslims living in the area were arrested Monday night.
''You would not think that they would be capable of plotting something like this,'' Levine said of the brothers. ''When I found out this morning, my heart stopped. They seemed like a very close-knit family.''
Eljvir Duka, 23, Dritan Duka, 28, and Shain Duka, 26, were charged in the alleged plot to storm Fort Dix with automatic machine guns and semiautomatic rifles and kill as many soldiers as they could.
Also arrested were Mohamad Ibrahim Shnewer, 22, of Cherry Hill; Serdar Tatar, 23, of Philadelphia; and Agron Abdullahu, 24, of Buena Vista Township. Shnewer and Tatar were charged in the alleged plot; Abdullah was charged with aiding and abetting the Duka brothers' illegal possession of weapons.
The Duka brothers were born in the former Yugoslavia and residing illegally in the U.S. Shnewer, a native of Jordan; Tatar, a native of Turkey; and Abdullahu, who was born in the former Yugoslavia, are legal residents.
Dritan and Shain Duka once owned a pizza shop in Turnersville, N.J., about 35 miles from Fort Dix. They sold it in June 2005 to Tony Giordano, who now operates it as Tony Soprano's Pizza, Giordano said. He said it was ''a filthy rat trap'' before he remodeled it.
''I had a brief encounter with'' Dritan Duka, who goes by Tony, Giordano said. ''They weren't the friendliest people, but then again, who would know something like that?''
Levine recalled seeing some of the Dukas shooting paintballs at trees in their front yard, an incident that seemed harmless at the time. Authorities say the group spoke of playing paintball as a training exercise for the attack.
Shnewer, a cab driver in Philadelphia who comes across in the criminal complaint as the group's dominant figure, lived just a few miles away.
Neighbors there said four or five families appeared to be living in the house and there were frequent visitors, but they did not mingle with their neighbors.
''They kept to themselves,'' said Don Bauer, 40, who lives across the street.
Abdullahu had worked recently at a Shop-Rite food market, according to authorities. He worked as a bakery supervisor after emigrating to the United States from Kosovo in 1999, said his cousin, Arsim Abdullahu, of New York City, in a telephone interview.
They last spoke by phone about seven months ago and have not seen each other for about five years, he said. Arsim Abdullahu said he could not remember anything that would suggest his cousin would get involved in an alleged terrorist plot.
''It's nothing I did and it's not like it's my problem,'' he said. ''We have a law here. The law should take care of him, not me.''
According to a neighbor in northeast Philadelphia, Tatar didn't have much money and lived in a large apartment building with his pregnant wife. Authorities said his last known job was at a 7-Eleven convenience store in Philadelphia.
Neighbor Stacie Gandlina said she saw the federal agents who raided Tatar's apartment and tried to console his in-laws after his arrest Monday night.
''I said, 'If he is nice, they will let him go. If he is bad, why do you need a bad son-in-law? They have to check,''' Gandlina said Tuesday.
According to authorities, Tatar worked at Super Mario's Ristorante in Cookstown, at the northwestern edge of Fort Dix. Mario Tummillo, who lives near Tatar's father in Cookstown, said he knows Tatar and had worked with him at the pizza parlor.
Tummillo, 20, described Tatar as a religious man who ''wasn't violent at all.''
He recalled Tatar praying in the back of the restaurant and said Tatar often talked about religion, bringing it up in conversations about other subjects.
''He would start talking about how you should worship God,'' Tummillo said.
Associated Press writers Mark Scolforo in Harrisburg, Pa., Patrick Walters in Philadelphia, Deborah Yao in Cookstown and David Porter in Newark, N.J., contributed to this story.