TRENTON, N.J. - A federal appeals panel yesterday upheld the convictions and sentences of five Muslim men accused of planning to attack Fort Dix or other military bases, though it threw out a charge against one defendant.
The main issue was prosecutors’ use of wiretaps obtained under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, a part of the Patriot Act aimed largely at gathering foreign intelligence.
The men - Mohamad Shnewer, Serdar Tatar, and brothers Dritan, Eljvir, and Shain Duka - were arrested in May 2007. In 2008, a federal jury convicted them of conspiring to kill US military personnel at Fort Dix. All but Tatar are serving life terms.
Defense lawyers said it was unconstitutional to use the recordings in a domestic criminal case and that it may have been impossible to convict the men without the evidence.
A three-judge panel of the Philadelphia-based US Court of Appeals for the Thirrd Circuit disagreed.
Another major issue came from an error that federal prosecutors acknowledged in January: Three of the men were convicted of attempted possession of firearms in furtherance of a crime, but the law in question does not have a provision that outlaws attempted possession.
In the case of that count against Dritan and Shain Duka, the judges said defense lawyers should have raised it before the trial judge. But the case of Shnewer was different. The court ruled that there was no evidence he possessed the weapons. As a result, his weapons conviction was dismissed.