By Wayne Parry
FORT DIX, N.J. — Six men described by federal prosecutors as “Islamic militants” were arrested on charges they plotted to attack the Fort Dix Army base and “kill as many soldiers as possible,” authorities said today.
The six were scheduled to appear in U.S. District Court in Camden later today to face charges of conspiracy to kill U.S. servicemen, said Michael Drewniak, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in New Jersey.
Officials said four of the men were born in the former Yugoslavia, one in Jordan and one in Turkey. Five of them lived in Cherry Hill, 10 miles east of Philadelphia and 20 miles southwest of Fort Dix, Drewniak said.
“They were planning an attack on Fort Dix in which they would kill as many soldiers as possible,” Drewniak said.
A law enforcement official, speaking on condition of anonymity because documents in the case remain sealed, said the attack was stopped in the planning stages.
Authorities believe the men trained in the Poconos for the attack and also conducted surveillance at other area military institutions, including Fort Monmouth, the official said. The official said that the men had lived in the United States for some time.
The six were arrested trying to buy automatic weapons in a sale set-up by law enforcement authorities, the official said.
White House spokesman Tony Snow said there is “no direct evidence” that the men arrested in the Fort Dix plot have ties to international terrorism.
“They are not charged with being members of an international terrorism organization,” Snow said. “At least at this point, there is no evidence that they received direction from international terror organizations. However, their involvement in weapons training, operational surveillance and discussions about killing American military personnel warranted a strong law enforcement response.”
Asked if those arrested had any ties to al-Qaida, Snow referred questions to the FBI and the U.S. attorney, but said those officials “seem to indicate that there is no direct evidence of a foreign terrorist tie.”
Jerri Williams, spokeswoman for the FBI in Philadelphia, said U.S. Attorney Christopher Christie and J.P. Weis, special agent in charge of the FBI in Philadelphia, would release more information at a news conference later today.
Fort Dix is used to train soldiers, particularly reservists. In 1999, it sheltered more than 4,000 ethnic Albanian refugees during the NATO bombing campaign against Yugoslavia.
After that war, refugees were allowed to return to the U.N.-run province of Kosovo in Serbia or to seek permanent residency in the United States. The U.N. Security Council is considering whether to approve a plan to grant Kosovo independence from Serbia under the supervision of the European Union and the United States.
Jeff Sagnip, a spokesman for U.S. Rep. James Saxton, who represents Fort Dix, said the base, along with adjacent McGuire Air Force Base, has been put on its highest security alert level.
He said Fort Dix typically has 15,000 people, including 3,000 soldiers; McGuire, which is adjacent to Fort Dix, has about 11,500 people.
Soldiers at Fort Dix have been training for warfare in Iraq and Afghanistan, Sagnip said.
Since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the once-open Fort Dix has been closed to the public. There are heavily armed guards at entrances, along with X-ray machines and concrete barriers to make it impossible for vehicles to rush the entrances.
But the main road through neighboring Cookstown cuts through the base and is accessible to the public. A half-dozen locations on the base, including at least two where soldiers were conducting maneuvers Tuesday morning, were only a few hundred yards off the main road and accessible to anyone.
The description of the suspects as “Islamic militants” was causing renewed worry among New Jersey’s Muslim community. Hundreds of Muslim men from New Jersey were rounded up and detained by authorities in the months following the Sept. 11 attacks, but none was connected to that plot.
“If these people did something, then they deserve to be punished to the fullest extent of the law,” said Sohail Mohammed, a lawyer who represented scores of detainees after the 2001 attacks. “But when the government says ’Islamic militants,’ it sends a message to the public that Islam and militancy are synonymous.
“Don’t equate actions with religion,” he said.
Associated Press Writers Matt Apuzzo in Washington, Geoff Mulvihill in Mount Laurel, Tom Hester Jr. in Trenton and Jeffrey Gold in Newark contributed to this story.