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Informant says he advocated attacks to gain trust

November 6, 2008 6:56:44 PM PST
An FBI informant in the case of five men accused of planning to attack soldiers on an Army installation in New Jersey testified Thursday that he talked up the attack in order to win the confidence of an alleged plotter. Rocco Cipparone, the lawyer for defendant Mohamad Shnewer, asked Mahmoud Omar repeatedly about his own words on recordings Omar secretly made for the FBI. On them, Omar endorsed attacking Fort Dix, suggested that a plot would need more participants and offered to provide weapons.

Omar calmly explained through an Arabic language interpreter that he said objectionable things so he could gain Shnewer's trust and find out what was on his mind.

"It was not my idea, but I was going along with Mohamad," explained Mahmoud Omar, referring to defendant Mohamad Shnewer. Omar, who was on the stand for a sixth day, is an Egyptian citizen recruited to be an FBI informant in 2005 after he was caught in a bank fraud case.

Omar also gave the same succinct answer to a series of questions about whether all the alleged plotters ever sat down to review a map of Fort Dix or details of how to carry out a plot. Each time, the answer was "no."

That testimony could bolster defense claims that some of the suspects were not even aware of a plot.

Omar was not so calm when Cipparone's queries were directed at his credibility.

He rambled on and at one point shed tears during questions about his history of smoking marijuana, the bank fraud and his financial situation before the FBI began paying him $1,500 a week for his help in 2006.

Unprompted, he complained that the $1,400-a-month apartment the FBI rents for him is smaller than the jury box, that his 4-year-old daughter must sleep on a sofa there and that the demands that he be available to work on the case all the time keep him from being able to get another job.

He also defended his role in the case, asserting that he "never placed anyone in trouble."

"If someone wants do something wrong," he said, "I can't stop them."

Cipparone jumped on that testimony.

"You just stated, 'I never got anybody in trouble,"' Cipparone said. Then he asked about a 2005 case in which Omar admitted asking a woman to commit bank fraud to repay money she owed him.

"You counseled her to commit a crime for your benefit - so you could get paid the money she owed you. Yes or no?" Cipparone asked.

"I never intended to injure anyone, to hurt anyone," Omar answered.

Cipparone has tried to portray Omar as someone who would break the law even while working for law enforcement, and on Thursday raised the issue of his drug use.

Omar admitted to smoking marijuana - including on Oct. 24, just a few days before he took the stand in the trial. He said he did not use drugs during the 13 months the FBI had him spending time with the suspects.

At one point, Omar said that when he used pot last month, it wasn't his idea. Rather, he said, he joined his nephew and friend as they smoked.

Cipparone asked: "Did you ever hear of the term 'Just say no?"'

Omar, who is to continue to be paid by the FBI through December, responded: "I wanted to smoke."

Cipparone retorted: "You do what you want to do, even when the FBI tells you not to, don't you?"

Omar replied, "I smoke. I'm sorry, I smoke."

The defendants in the case - all Muslims in their 20s who lived for years in Cherry Hill - face charges of attempted murder and conspiracy to kill military personnel. Four of them are also charged with weapons offenses.

No attack was carried out before the men were arrested in May 2007.

Omar told jurors - again not in response to any question - that he likes the suspects.

"I have no personal grudge against any of them," he said.

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On the Net:

U.S. District Courts page with evidence from trial: http://www.njd.uscourts.gov/FortDixTrial/index.html

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