Thursday, May 10, 2007

Fort Dix Suspect Profiles

One day after the men were arraigned in United States District Court in Camden, a portrait is emerging of the five who face charges of conspiring to kill American military personnel, which could send them to prison for life. Much less is known about the sixth, Agron Abdullahu, 24, who the authorities say was a sniper in Kosovo but who faces lesser charges, carrying up to 10 years.

Serdar Tatar, 23, a Turkish immigrant who lives in Philadelphia, had grown so religious over the last two years that his father, Muslim Tatar, said they had become estranged. Serdar’s Russian-born wife, who is pregnant with twins, said he was so busy working that he rarely went to the mosque, but sometimes read the Koran and helped her 11-year-old son with his homework.

Mohamad Ibrahim Shnewer, 22, a Palestinian born in Amman, Jordan, had for the last year kept up an exhausting routine of work, sleep and prayer, according to his mother. He drove a cab at night in Philadelphia, had recently dropped out of Camden County Community College to help the family pay two mortgages and attended services occasionally at the Al-Aqsa center.

And there were the Dukas, ages 23, 26 and 28, who came to this country illegally, more than a decade ago. The brothers, like many of their relatives and fellow ethnic Albanian immigrants in the area, have worked in roofing, coming to own two companies, in addition to a pizzeria. They are not from an Arabic-speaking nation — though one is married to a woman from Jordan — but they sometimes used Arabic names for their roofing businesses: Qadr, which in Arabic means destiny, and Inshala, an unusual spelling for a commonplace expression that means “if God wills it.”

It is not fully known how the Dukas met the other defendants, but their lives began to intersect as early as 1999, when Mr. Tatar, Mr. Shnewer and Eljvir Duka, known as Elvis, were all enrolled at Cherry Hill West High School.

One of Mr. Shnewer’s five sisters married Eljvir Duka and is now pregnant. On Wednesday, Lamese and Israa Shnewer, ages 12 and 14, stood in the threshold of their house in Cherry Hill, holding tabloid newspapers with their brother’s picture splashed across the front. Cars slowed down as they passed. People snapped pictures with their cellphones.

Israa pointed to a neighbor’s house and said, “They hated us to begin with.”

The criminal complaint filed against the suspects on Tuesday portrayed Mr. Shnewer as the leader of the group, speaking most frequently in taped conversations about tactics. But his mother, Faten Shnewer, said in an interview that the charges “made no sense.”

She said that televised images from the war in Iraq had angered him, and wondered whether, while he was watching the news, he had said something that was misinterpreted by the authorities. When the authorities searched the family’s home, they took a Koran, along with the mortgage bills and other household items, Mrs. Shnewer said.


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