Entrapped: On the Manufactured Case Against the “Fort Dix Five”

Late last month, The Intercept published a long and detailed investigation by Murtaza Hussain and Razan Ghalayini into the case of the so-called “Fort Dix Five”, a group of Muslims convicted in December 2008 of an alleged terrorist plot to attack the army base at Fort Dix, New Jersey. From the outset, the case grew to become a typical example of the questionable entrapment methods used by the FBI to lure Muslims into plots by using undercover agents and well-paid informants.

As Hussain and Ghalayini’s investigation shows, the evidence in the case is dubious and its flaws numerous and egregious. The case also elevated Chris Christie, then a U.S. Attorney, towards the governorship of New Jersey and into national prominence. He recently threw his hat into the ring of nominees for the Republican presidential nomination.

Brothers Dritan, Shain and Eljvir Duka were sentence to life in prison even though none had any prior knowledge of a the so-called plot. A fourth defendant, Mohamad Shnewer also received a life sentence while Serdar Tatar, the fifth defendant, is currently serving a 33 year sentence.

From The Intercept:

For the Duka family, the arrests marked a tragic turn. They had escaped the turmoil of the former Yugoslavia and managed to start anew in the United States, only to find three sons publicly branded as terrorists. Dritan, Shain and Eljvir, seized when they were 28, 26 and 23, would be convicted of conspiring to kill U.S. military personnel and sentenced to life in prison, devastating the Duka family and putting an end to their nascent American dream.

Beyond the sensational headlines is the story of paid FBI informants with long criminal histories who spent a year working to befriend the brothers and enlist them as terrorists. This effort, both expensive and time-consuming, nevertheless failed to convince the Duka brothers to take part in a violent attack. Indeed, over the course of hundreds of hours of surveillance, the plot against Fort Dix was never even raised with them.

In the years since these events occurred, the use of dubious informants in terrorism investigations by the FBI has become almost routine. When purported terror plots are “revealed,” they almost invariably involve paid government informants at every level of their ideation, facilitation and planning. But the story of the Duka brothers is an early example of this type of case — and it still stands out because of the deliberate and brazen way the brothers were entrapped by authorities, assisted by their paid informants. Indeed, one might argue that the targeting of the Dukas was the prototype for the program of state-orchestrated terrorism plots that continues today.

In this case the informants, Mahmoud Omar and Besnik Bakalli, had serious criminal records: Omar was convicted of fraud and faced deportation to Egypt while Bakalli had confessed to attempted murder in Albania. They were paid well, too; Bakalli earned $150,000, Omar $240,000.

The video above [video link] features an extensive interview with Burim Duka, a younger brother of the three serving life sentences.

The investigative report, which I urge you to read, concludes with Omar’s view that the brothers did nothing wrong.

More than seven years after the trial, the person who was arguably the most critical in securing the convictions still agonizes over his role in the case. In a recent interview with The Intercept, Mahmoud Omar, the informant, maintains that while Mohamad Shnewer was involved in the Fort Dix plot, the Dukas, whom he describes as “good people,” were innocent.

“I still don’t know why the Dukas are in jail,” he says.

Related: Hussain appeared on Democracy Now to discuss his investigation. That video is below; you can also read a transcript of the program here.

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