The government's star witness in the case against five men accused of plotting an attack on soldiers at the Army's Fort Dix said two of the men "had nothing to do" with the scheme.
Mahmoud Omar, a paid FBI informant who made hundreds of secret recordings of the men, told jurors Monday that one defendant — Mohamad Shnewer — said all five were on board with the alleged plot.
But two — brothers Dritan "Tony" Duka and Shain "Shaheen" Duka — knew nothing about it when Omar later asked them, he testified under cross-examination.
"Tony and Shaheen had nothing to do with this matter," Omar said during his seventh day on the stand. "... I was surprised because what Mohamad had told me was different."
Government prosecutors have not yet had a chance to ask Omar to further explain what he meant by that — or whether the men joined the plot after the fishing trip.
The five men, all in their 20s at the time of the arrests, are foreign-born Muslims who lived for years in the comfortable Philadelphia suburb of Cherry Hill, N.J.
They're charged with conspiracy to kill military personnel, attempted murder and weapons offenses in a case prosecutors have presented as one of the most frightening examples of homegrown terrorism. If convicted, the men could face life in prison.
Defense lawyers deny the men were seriously planning anything and said Omar tried to make it look like there was a plot. They note that Omar is being paid $1,500 a week to work for the government.
Omar said he told the FBI the two Duka brothers were not part of a plot to attack the military installation. The brothers were arrested in Omar's apartment in May 2007 while allegedly trying to buy an arsenal of automatic rifles.
Also on Monday, Shnewer's lawyer, Rocco Cipparone, asked Omar questions designed to show that even Shnewer was not serious about an attack. Recorded conversations in which Shnewer and Omar discuss possible attacks are a key piece of the government's case.
Omar agreed that Shnewer never followed through on several of his suggestions, like practicing how to make bombs, making return surveillance trips to Fort Dix and convening a meeting of the suspects to swear them to secrecy before going over details of a plot — including making them remove their clothes to prove no one was wearing a wire.
Cipparone also showed the jury transcripts of conversations that show Omar suggesting means of attack, such as using nail bombs and declaring that it would take at least 30 men to attack Fort Dix.
When asked about such statements, Omar said he was just trying to get Shnewer to keep talking.