Appeals court upholds convictions in Fort Dix plot

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A federal appeals panel on Wednesday 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 recordings were a major piece of a 2½-month trial for the five men, all Muslim immigrants who grew up in the New Jersey suburbs of Philadelphia.

The men — Mohamad Shnewer, Serdar Tatar, and brothers Dritan, Eljvir and Shain Duka — were arrested in May 2007. In 2008, a federal jury in Camden, N.J., convicted them of conspiring to kill U.S. 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.

But in a unanimous ruling written by Judge Marjorie O. Rendell, a three-judge panel of the Philadelphia-based 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed. The challenged search "was conducted in objectively reasonable reliance on a duly authorized statute," and therefore admissible at trial, Rendell wrote.

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.

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