“Epicenter of Conspiracy” Gets Life in Ft. Dix Case

Four men get life in prison, one to serve 33-years

A man who was the "epicenter of the conspiracy" to kill military personnel was sentenced to life in prison and a fellow plotter was sentenced to 33 years as a judge on Wednesday finished sentencing five Muslim immigrants who contemplated an attack on Fort Dix.

On Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Robert Kugler had sentenced the three others involved in the plot to at least life in prison.

Overall, Kugler seemed to accept the position of prosecutors that the plot was one of the most frightening homegrown terrorism plots ever hatched in the U.S.

Under federal law, none of the four men given life sentences will be eligible for parole. With each of the four, Kugler cited their actions in the plot, their run-ins with the law -- either before the investigation began or in the federal detention center in Philadelphia -- and what he called their radical Islamist ideology.

On Wednesday, Mohamad Shnewer, a 24-year-old U.S. citizen born in Jordan, received a sentence of life plus 30 years. Kugler said the sentence reflected his position as "the epicenter of the conspiracy" by frequently suggesting ways to kill military personnel. The judge dismissed the young man's contention that he was talking about violence only because Mahmoud Omar, an FBI informant, pushed him into it.

"I might have spoken like a jihadist," said Shnewer, a former Cherry Hill resident who drove a cab and worked in his family's food market. "But I don't have what it takes to be a jihadist."

Like the families of the other men, relatives of Serdar Tatar spoke in court, describing the Turkish-born 25-year-old as a loving man who helped his stepson with homework. They said he was not interested in violence and cried about the shootings at Virginia Tech two years ago.

"I believe that everything that's going on is happening in some horrible dream," said his wife, Halide Mirayeva, as she spoke on the couple's third wedding anniversary.

Unlike the other men, who wore stoic expressions or even smiled during the sentencing proceedings, Tatar was sullen. He cried as his family spoke.

Tatar, a former restaurant worker and 7-Eleven clerk who lived in Philadelphia, spoke in court for about 40 minutes. Much of his talk was devoted to giving his side of a bizarre incident in the investigation -- when he went to Philadelphia police, then the FBI, to report that someone had asked him for a map of Fort Dix.

At the time, his father owned a pizza shop near the central New Jersey Army installation, used primarily to train reservists for deployments in Iraq. Prosecutors say the men were focusing on the fort as a target because of Tatar's knowledge of the base.

In the trial, government prosecutors portrayed Tatar's approaching authorities as a savvy effort to smoke out Omar as an FBI informant.

Tatar said he was honestly trying to report possible criminal activity.

"I thought I was doing the right thing," he said. "And I ended up screwing it up for everyone." His mistake, he said, was lying and telling investigators that he had not handed over the map when in fact he had.

After hearing from Tatar, Kugler uncharacteristically called for a five-minute break, building drama before he announced his sentence.

Kugler said he hardly slept the previous night as he agonized over how to sentence Tatar. He settled on a 33-year term.

He said he didn't believe that Tatar was trying to do right by going to authorities, but "I am simply not convinced that he was driven by any ideology or religious fervor"

"He's the only one of the defendants I believe has any hope of rehabilitation with a prison sentence," Kugler said.

After the sentencing, Acting U.S. Attorney Ralph J. Marra Jr. said, "Mr. Tatar strikes me as somewhat of a follower-type person."

Lawyers for all five men say they expect to appeal the sentences.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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