A paid government informant who infiltrated a group of men accused of plotting an attack on soldiers at a New Jersey military installation was an Egyptian national on probation for bank fraud, an attorney in the case said Tuesday.
Less than two weeks after 38-year-old Mahmoud Omar was taken off probation and free to leave the United States, the FBI arrested the men who came to be known as the Fort Dix Six for allegedly planning to attack Fort Dix.
Until Tuesday, Omar was publicly known in court records only as CW-1 — for Cooperating Witness No. 1 — an Egyptian man older than the plot suspects who had been helpful to federal authorities in the past. A second paid informant remains unidentified.
The actions of CW-1 have raised questions of whether the government crossed the line and pushed the six men down a path they would not have otherwise followed.
During a court proceeding Tuesday, defense lawyer Michael Huff said that CW-1 was named Mahmoud Omar, and that on one tape he made for the government, Omar mentioned he was on probation.
‘Some credibility questions’
Huff asked U.S. District Judge Robert Kugler to require the government to hand over additional details about why Omar was on probation. Kugler said the defense would get that information well before a trial.
Troy Archie, another defense lawyer, said he believes Omar was the informant and said Omar also helped authorities in the bank fraud case in 2001 that landed him on probation.
"He's a paid informant," Archie said. "There are some credibility questions ... coupled with the financial."
Greg Reinert, a spokesman for the U.S. attorney's office, would not confirm whether Omar was the informant.
According to court documents, CW-1 railed against the United States, helped scout out military installations for attack, offered to introduce his comrades to an arms dealer, and gave them a list of weapons he could procure, including machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades.
The Fort Dix Six were arrested in May after a 15-month FBI investigation that relied heavily on two paid informants who secretly recorded meetings and telephone conversations in which the suspects talked of killing "in the name of Allah."
Accused face life in prison
Prosecutors portrayed the six foreign-born men — Serdar Tatar, 23; Agron Abdullahu, 24; Mohamad Ibrahim Shnewer, 22; Dritan "Anthony" or "Tony" Duka, 28; Shain Duka, 26; and Eljvir "Elvis" Duka, 23 — as driven by hatred of America, a description disputed by relatives and acquaintances.
Five of them face life in prison if convicted of conspiring to murder military personnel; Abdullahu pleaded guilty last month to conspiring to provide weapons to the group and faces as many as five years in prison when he is sentenced Feb. 6.
Government lawyers said Tuesday that they plan to add weapons charges against some of the men.
Court records show a man named Mahmoud Omar to be one of five men indicted in June 2001 and charged with a bank fraud. The scheme centered on the men opening bank accounts around Pennsylvania, depositing counterfeit checks, and cashing them before the banks caught on.
Within three months of his arrest, Omar had accepted a plea deal and admitted to making $9,550 in the scheme. Though bank fraud carries a maximum penalty of 30 years in prison, Omar agreed to help authorities in the case and was sentenced to only six months in prison, court records show.
In testifying against the bank fraud ringleader, Omar acknowledged that he double-crossed him in agreeing to split proceeds of the fraud with him — something he never did.
Omar moved to Paulsboro, N.J., in 2005, court records show. Phone numbers for Omar at listings in Paulsboro and Burlington City were disconnected Tuesday.
Suspects seek access to evidence
Omar's probation ended April 19. The suspects were arrested May 7 — some while allegedly trying to buy weapons to carry out an attack.
No attack was ever staged on Fort Dix, which is being used largely to train reservists bound for Iraq.
In legal papers filed over the past week, the five still facing charges asked to be moved from a high-security unit in the federal detention center they are being held in Philadelphia. They claim they are being denied adequate access to review evidence against them to help their attorneys prepare for trial, scheduled for March 24.
Kugler scheduled a Dec. 20 hearing at which lawyers can make their case for bail. He said he could also consider an arrangement in which the men could be taken to their lawyers' offices during the day to review material in the case.