(CNSNews.com) - Four of the ten men who took part in a jihadist training exercise in the Pocono Mountains last year have yet to be charged in connection with the planned terrorist attack on Fort Dix, N.J.
A DVD showing 10 Islamic radicals firing assault rifles and calling for jihad spurred the federal investigation that culminated in six arrests this week. But what about the other four?
"We know where they are and the investigation continues," Jerri Williams, a special agent with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, told Cybercast News Service. "However, at this time we do not have evidence that would link them directly to the [Fort Dix] plot. We are aware of their participation in the firearms training but the investigation to date does not provide us evidence to charge them."
Signed affidavits from the FBI indicate the agency has identified the "10 young men who appeared to be in their early twenties."
According to those affidavits, the ten men videotaped themselves "shooting assault weapons at a firing range in a militia-like style while calling for jihad and shouting in Arabic 'Allah Akbar' (God is Great)." The training exercise apparently took place on Jan. 3, 2006, in Pennsylvania's Pocono Mountains.
The FBI investigation began several weeks later, on Jan. 31, 2006, after a store clerk was asked to copy the training videotape to DVD. The clerk became suspicious and notified authorities.
"There's absolutely nothing illegal about being a radical ideologist," Williams said. "This is the United States, and our Constitution allows people to speak hateful thoughts. What they can't do is act on those thoughts."
Six suspects were arrested after they allegedly tried to buy AK-47s and M-16s from an undercover agent. Authorities have said they believed the Muslim radicals were close to carrying out the attack.
Five of the foreign-born suspects have been charged with plotting to kill soldiers stationed at Fort Dix. Three of them are bothers who, according to press reports, snuck into the country illegally 23 years ago. A sixth defendant is charged with aiding and abetting in the illegal possession of firearms.
FBI Special Agent J.P. Weis said he especially wanted to "salute the unsung hero who took the initiative to report the video to local authoritie.
"His or her actions are the embodiment of the cooperation we need from the public to keep this nation safe. We need to reach the point where everyone is willing to come forward and say to law enforcement, 'I have seen or heard something that you need to know.'"
As Cybercast News Service previously reported, counter-terrorism officials have expressed concern over a lawsuit filed by the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) aimed against so-called John Does -- ordinary people -- who report suspicious activity, as the New Jersey store clerk did.
Such lawsuits, even if not successful, could have a "chilling effect" on the public's willingness to report questionable activity, critics say.
Williams is encouraging members of the public to remain vigilant and to report activity that makes them "uncomfortable" or "suspicious" and to avoid entertaining "too narrow a view" of what a terrorist or terrorist cell might look like.
"I'm sure the person who reported this video had second thoughts," she said. "But luckily this person followed through and let law enforcement make the final decision and we had a successful arrest."
Law enforcement partnership
The lack of communication and coordination between law enforcement agencies and intelligence gathering entities that was highlighted in the wake of the 9/11 attacks was not a factor in the Fort Dix investigation, Williams said. In fact, she said, the FBI enjoyed "100 percent cooperation from local officials."
This type of cooperation and teamwork will be needed in the future as the FBI works to identify and shut down additional terror cells, Williams added.
One widely praised program that is allowing even greater cooperation between federal, state and local officials proceeds from Section 287g of the Immigration and Nationality Act. The program allows the Department of Homeland Security to enter into agreements with state and local governments on joint enforcement of federal immigration law.
Specifically, it allows state and local officials to perform the functions of immigration officers -- provided that their receive appropriate training.
Rep. Ted Poe (R-Tex.) described the 287g provision as "one of the best programs the federal government offers" to empower local officials to identify and remove illegal aliens from their jurisdictions. However, he also said the program's full potential remains unexploited.
The nexus between illegal immigration and potential acts of terrorism has figured prominently in the Fort Dix investigation.
Three of the Islamic radicals arrested in New Jersey were illegal aliens; two had green cards; and one was a U.S. citizen. Four of the suspects were born in the former Yugoslavia, one was born in Jordan and one came from Turkey, authorities said.
But the actual identity of at least some of the suspects may still be open to debate, said Richard Miniter, a counter-terrorism expert and author affiliated with the Hudson Institute.
For instance, he believes it's possible that "constructed identities" may be at work in the case of the Kosovar Albanians. They could in fact be Arabs, who picked up passports and identities in Albania, Miniter said.
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