Activists from Albany traveled to Camden, New Jersey, Wednesday in a show of solidarity with the Duka brothers—three of the so-called “Fort Dix Five” involved in an FBI entrapment case.
The Dukas are three Albanian-born brothers serving life sentences for plotting to kill U.S. soldiers at Fort Dix, New Jersey. They, like their Albany, NY, counterparts, Yassin Aref and Mohammed Hossain, involved in an FBI uncovered plot involving a missile attack, were caught up in a complex U.S. government operation that resulted in their arrests and eventual convictions on terrorism-related charges.
Activists, family members and supporters of the Dukas visited Albany in 2010 to show solidarity with Aref and Hossain. On Wednesday, Albany activists returned that show of support by traveling to New Jersey to attend a court-ordered hearing to determine whether the Dukas got a fair trial and were adequately represented by their attorneys.
The Albany group was joined by people from Manhattan, Maryland, Washington DC, Philadelphia, Texas and Maine. They carried colorful banners and hand-made signs. Dr. Maha Hilal, the Executive Director of the National Coalition to Protect Civil Freedoms, addressed the gathering. "We're here because we can no longer accept the abuses that have been perpetrated against Muslims since 9/11. This is one of the most egregious cases that we've seen since 9/11 and we can no longer accept it. We can no longer accept that the FBI is allowed to run around the country and entrap and surveill Muslims without any accountability, and to continue to destroy Muslim lives, their families and the communities to which they belong."
The hearing lasted into the late afternoon. Each Duka brother testified separately, telling U.S. District Judge Robert B. Kugler their conspiracy convictions are flawed because their lawyers wouldn’t let them testify at their 2008 terrorism trial, which led to their convictions along with two others of plotting an attack at military sites at Fort Dix and elsewhere.
Dritan, Eljvir and Shain Duka lost their appeals, but argued in post-conviction petitions that they were denied the right to testify. Their trial lawyers denied the accusations. The attorney for one of the Dukas admitted he chose not to prepare his client to testify, fearing his views that the 9/11 attacks were "an inside job" might be damaging to the case.
All three former defense attorneys explained that although they recommended their clients not take the stand at trial, they would have honored their right to testify if that’s what they wanted.
One of the lead informants in the case, Mahmoud Omar, told intercept.com that he believed the Dukas were innocent, and characterized them as “good people.” Outside court, younger brother Burim Duka said his brothers deserve a new trial. "The only evidence they have is with the one informant Mohammed Omar. They don't have not one evidence with the Duka brother, my brothers, saying anything or Mohammed and my brothers talking or the informant and my brothers talking about attacking anything. There's not one piece of evidence that states that. Even the prosecutors admit to that."
In the Dukas case, as well as the Albany case involving Aref and Hossain, the FBI engaged paid informants to gather evidence. Among those making the Jersey trip: former Albany city councilman Dom Calsolaro, who in 2010 introduced "The Albany Resolution." "Stating the fact that we didn't like these entrapment cases and the use of what we call 'agent-provaceteurs' - informants that were paying hundreds of thousands of dollars by the federal government to entrap innocent people just so some elected people, some politicians, some law enforcement people can go public and say 'look, we're protecting you!’”
It should be noted that Republican presidential candidate, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, was the U.S. attorney in New Jersey who prosecuted the Fort Dix Five case, regarded by many as Christie's biggest achievement. In a recent interview with Fox News, Christie insisted the case was not an FBI "sting."
No decision was made Wednesday; the court gave the defense attorneys until February 16 to file another motion. A decision will be made after that time.
The FBI had no comment.