Six members of an alleged homegrown terror cell that intended to use automatic weapons and rocket-propelled grenades in a commando-style attack on a military base in New Jersey were arrested by the FBI Monday night after a 15-month investigation.
"Their alleged intention was to conduct an armed assault on the army base and to kill as many soldiers as possible," a spokesman for the U.S. attorney in New Jersey said.
The Fort Monmouth Army Base in New Jersey, Dover Air Force Base in Delaware and the Coast Guard building in Philadelphia were allegedly considered as targets and put under surveillance by a New Jersey-based terror group before members settled on Fort Dix, where one cell member allegedly had unfettered access as a pizza delivery man, ABC News has learned.
Three high-level law enforcement sources told ABC News that the investigation into the plot had been ongoing for 15 months. The suspects were described as illegal and legal residents of the U.S. Four of the six suspects were born in Yugoslavia, one was born in Jordan and the other in Turkey.
There was no known direct link between this group and al Qaeda or other organized fundamentalist extremist groups.
The investigation began when a man walked into a photo shop and asked to convert a tape to a DVD, two law enforcement officials said.
The tape contained scenes of men conducting weapons training in the Pocono Mountains in Pennsylvania, using handguns and rifles and firing live ammo, according to the federal complaints unsealed today in New Jersey.
The tape was intended for training purposes and to recruit more members to the group's cause, according to law enforcement officials.
"We need to accumulate experience, and we need to think about how many we need and what they are going to do, and we need to gather the weapons," one suspect, Mohamad Shnewer, was to have told an FBI informant in a recorded conversation, according to the federal compaint.
The technician making the dub of the training tape to DVD saw the content and notified authorities. He told them the content he saw was "distrubing." The case was passed from regional counterterror officials in New Jersey to the Philadelphia FBI Joint Terrorist Task Force.
"The DVD depicted 10 young men who appeared to be in their 20s shooting assault-style weapons at a firing range in a militia-like style while calling for jihad and shouting in Arabic, 'Allah akbar,' ('God is great')," the federal complaint said.
An investigation began, and it was soon determined that the men allegedly intended to assault a military base using automatic weapons. Electronic eavesdropping and a confidential informant determined the men were serious in their intent.
Though the plot did not reach an operational phase, the alleged cell members completed their surveillance and selected Fort Dix as their target.
It was chosen because one cell member's family owned a pizza parlor near the base, and that member was able to enter the base to deliver pizza. The group believed this access would enable its attack to succeed.
Early today about six members of the group were arrested when they met to pick up Russian-style assault rifles described by authorities as AK-47s and U.S. M-16 automatic rifles for the men.
Jihadist propaganda material, including "generalized messages" from Osama bin Laden and other leaders, was seized, authorities said. It had been downloaded from the Internet.
Five of the six defendants are charged with "plotting to kill as many soldiers as possible" in an armed assault on Fort Dix. The sixth defendant is charged with related charges of aiding and abetting the possession of illegal firearms.
Philadelphia Assistant Special Agent in Charge of the FBI said in a statement, "I want to especially salute the unsung hero who took the initiative to report the video to authorities."
Those arrested and charged with plotting to kill the soldiers are Mohamad Ibrahim Shnewer, 22, Eljvir Duka, 23, Dritan Duka, 28, Shain Duka, 26, Serdar Tatar, 23. Agron Abdullahu, 24, was arrested and charged with aiding and abetting.
Jay Shaylor contributed to this report.