from the Intercept
Chris Christie has trumpeted his role in the high-profile prosecution of the men behind a foiled plot against a New Jersey military base. But new evidence, including statements from a key FBI informant, reveals how the accused men — now spending their lives in prison— were set up by the authorities in an early example of state-orchestrated “terrorism.”…
On the evening of May 7, 2007, 48-year-old Lata Duka was doing dishes in the kitchen of her home in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, when she heard a loud bang come from the front of the house. “It wasn’t a normal sound. I was very scared,” Lata recalls nearly a decade later.
Thinking someone was breaking in, Lata grabbed a chair from the kitchen table and hoisted it above her head, waiting for the intruder. Moments later a swarm of armed men burst through the front door and ran into her kitchen. “Put the chair down or I’ll shoot!” she says one exclaimed, pushing his gun against her chest.
The armed men were FBI agents and other law enforcement officials. As they searched the house, one of the men approached Lata. He was smiling.
“He kept asking me, where are my sons!” Lata remembers. “Just smiling and going up and down the stairs, asking me all the time, where are your sons? I told him my sons were at work. He just kept smiling at me.”
Lata didn’t know that at roughly the same time, authorities were conducting raids at separate locations in Cherry Hill to arrest her three sons, Dritan, Shain and Eljvir Duka. Over 100 officers and agents were involved in what at the time was one of the most high-profile counterterrorism arrests in the post-9/11 era.
The next morning, Chris Christie, then the U.S. attorney for New Jersey, appeared at a press conference flanked by law enforcement officials to announce the arrests. “The philosophy that supports and encourages jihad around the world against Americans came to live here in New Jersey and threatened the lives of our citizens through these defendants,” he said.
Christie said that five men apprehended the previous night — the three Duka brothers along with two friends, Mohamad Shnewer and Serdar Tatar — had been planning to launch a terrorist attack against the nearby Fort Dix military base. “Fortunately, law enforcement in New Jersey was here to stop them,” he said.
The press conference and ensuing case garnered national attention, and the brothers and their friends quickly became known as the “Fort Dix Five,” characterized in the media as a terrorist cell that intended to kill servicemen and attack facilities at the base. For Christie, now a possible contender for the GOP 2016 presidential nomination, the arrests would be a career turning point, helping galvanize his eventual rise to governor of New Jersey.
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….