CAMDEN, N.J. — Guns may be more imposing, but a map has become one of the key props in the trial of five men accused of plotting to attack soldiers on New Jersey’s Fort Dix.
Jurors on Monday heard how a 2-by-3-foot laminated map went from a pizza shop near the base in November 2006 to the bedroom closet of one of the suspects when he was arrested in May 2007.
Prosecutors have said the map is important because it represents a concrete step the men took toward attacking the base — a suggestion that talk of an attack was not empty.
It’s also the item that most strongly connects one of the defendants, Serdar Tatar, to the case.
Tatar and four other men — all of them foreign-born Muslims in their 20s who lived for years in Cherry Hill — are charged with attempted murder and conspiracy to murder military personnel. The other men are also charged with weapons offenses. All of them could face life in prison if convicted.
No attack was carried out.
In court Monday, jurors learned how the men obtained a map of the base from Tatar, whose father owned a pizza parlor that delivered to soldiers on the base.
In secret recordings made by government informant Mahmoud Omar, he is overheard repeatedly asking Tatar about a map, which he often calls “the thing.” “Don’t forget about me, brother,” Omar says in a Nov. 3, 2006, conversation. “Bring me the thing.”
Tatar, now 25, was born in Turkey but came as a child to New Jersey. By the time the investigation moved into high gear in 2006, he was a newlywed living in Philadelphia, working at a 7-Eleven and struggling with money.
A few times, Tatar tells Omar he couldn’t get to his father’s restaurant to get the map because of car problems or some other reasons.
When he finally handed over the map to Omar, Tatar seemed nervous. “I don’t know whether you’re FBI,” he was recorded saying.
Omar responds with a joke: “I’m George Bush.”
On the recordings, what would be done with the map was not directly addressed. But once, Tatar volunteered that a good target would be the power station that generates electricity to the military installation.
One recording played in court Monday was not made by Omar. Rather, it was from an FBI wiretap and captures a telephone conversation between Tatar and defendant Mohamad Shnewer.
“You’re taking a big risk,” Tatar tells Shnewer, who had been a friend since high school. “Out of the blue, he asks me for something like that. It makes you think twice, you know what I’m saying? It’s not safe.”