The Fort Dix Plot and the Turkish Connection
by Stephen Schwartz
In The Weekly Standard dated May 14, I published an article titled "The Balkan Front" in which I described my recent visit to Europe and discussions with Turkish, Kurdish, Albanian, and Bosnian Muslims about the resurgence of radical Islam in the eastern Mediterranean countries.
The story, its background, and its relevance became, in my view, imperative to Americans, with news of the arrest of six members of an alleged radical-Islamist conspiracy to attack U.S. service personnel at Fort Dix, New Jersey. The two ringleaders in the plot were Mohamad Ibrahim Shnewer, aged 22, from Jordan, and Serdar Tatar, 23, who was born in Turkey.
The four others were Albanian in origin: Agron Abdullahu, 24, and three brothers: Dritan Duka, 28, Shain Duka, 26, and Eljvir Duka, 23. The fraternal trio were present in the U.S. illegally. All except Shnewer appeared in court sporting the characteristic Wahhabi-style beard, or an attempt to grow one.
I predict a great deal of diversionary nonsense will fill the public discourse about this case. Immigration-control fanatics will declare that it illustrates the need to close U.S. borders tight. The recently revived Serbian lobby in the U.S. will use it to defame all Albanians, painting them as jihadist.
Few will notice the most significant element in the case: the Turkish connection.
But first, the background to my TWS story. I went to Europe in March at the insistence of Albanian Sufis, in my capacity as Executive Director of the Center for Islamic Pluralism. The Sufis told me urgent matters were involved.
In TWS, I described how, once in the Balkans, a prominent Albanian Sufi "sketched out for me the network of extremist agitation in the region – from revived centers of Sunni radicalism in Turkey to cells hidden unobtrusively in places like Peshkopia, a small, ancient town near glacial lakes in the wild mountains of eastern Albania."
On the way to the Albanian lands, I had stopped in Germany to confer with Turkish and Kurdish members of the Alevi sect, a liberal Shia Muslim community that comprises up to a quarter of Turkey's population. Their message was similar: Sunni extremism is on the rise in Turkey. Alevis fear that if the incumbent Islamist AK party retains power, it will reinforce discrimination against the Alevis, who are already treated as second-class citizens. The Turkish state spends millions to build mosques, but Alevis do not pray in mosques; they perform a mystical ceremony in which men and women play equal roles, in meeting houses called cemevi. The Turkish state spends only a token amount on their needs.
And now we find a Turk, Serdar Tatar, playing a major role in a purported terror plot that had recruited young Albanians in the U.S., exactly as described by the Albanian Sufis. An FBI affidavit accessible at The Smoking Gun shows that Tatar had detailed knowledge of Fort Dix, thanks to work as a deliveryman in his father's pizzeria. But the FBI information also includes some bizarre details. It suggests that the conspirators believed Agron Abdullahu was "a sniper in Kosovo." But Abdullahu is 24, and the Kosovo war took place nine years ago. That implies that he was a sniper at aged 15, which seems unlikely even for Albanians, who tend to keep firearms handy for self-defense. He was also observed by federal officers carrying a "Yugoslavian semi-automatic rifle," which would presumably be somewhat old.
The Duka brothers also seem, from the affidavit, to have gotten in over the heads in talking to the group, and even Tatar vacillated, going to the Philadelphia police one day to claim he was being pressured into handing over information on Fort Dix to terrorists and the next day swearing to an FBI informant that he was ready to die in the jihad. But all the members of the group evinced a despicable hatred of the United States.
No Muslim grouping is exempt from recruitment of Wahhabi extremists; Saudi oil money talks in poor communities, and Wahhabi agitators, of which Shnewer and Tatar appear to be typical examples, excite fear because of their supposed proximity to terror financiers and commanders. A newsblog called The Post Chronicle described the others as "recent converts to Islam." It is not uncommon for young and ill-educated newcomers to the religion to be sucked into jihadism.
Nevertheless, the urgency with which the Albanian Sufis had asked for my help – really, for aid from all of us as Americans – and the anxiety of the Turkish and Kurdish Alevis in Germany are vividly embodied in the Fort Dix case.
Al-Qaida has begun a new counter-offensive against the West, probing for weak spots in the Balkans and elsewhere. The terrorists seek to export Wahhabi Sunni terrorism from Iraq to other countries, and the road through Turkey and the Balkans to Fort Dix is a direct one. Although Jordanian King Abdullah speaks English perfectly and maintains ties with Israel, he is also soft on the Sunni radicals in Iraq.
In this context, some may try to paint the Balkans as a vast terror-training camp, based on paranoia about so-called "white Muslims," i.e. Muslims with a European appearance, who cannot be profiled. But there is much greater reason to view Turkey as the crossroads of a new terror campaign.
In recent weeks, Turkey has been convulsed by a political crisis pitting its secularist military against the AK party and the AK prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan. But Turkish and Kurdish Alevis, who know exactly the threat of ultra-nationalism and Sunni fanaticism found in both the military and Islamist ranks, are not heard in global media chatter about the Turkish crisis. I wrote in a Weekly Standard web post last week, and now re-emphasize, "As noted by Irfan Bozan, author of a recent report on the religious situation issued by the influential Turkish Economic and Social Studies Foundation, the willingness of the militant-Sunni AK party to accommodate the Alevi minority is the ‘acid test' of Erdogan's professed loyalty to secularism."
We should be wary of the latest politically-correct fool's gold to dazzle Western "experts" on Islam: the spurious claim that Erdogan's "soft" Islamist ideology is benevolent and populist. The Alevis know better, and I trust them, not the AK party or its apologists. As if that were not enough, the face of Turkish Sunni fanaticism has now been revealed in the Fort Dix affair.