Dritan Duka, Shain Duka and Eljvir Duka were born into a close-knit Albanian family from Macedonia that immigrated to the United States in 1984. The boys grew up in Cherry Hill, New Jersey and in 2003 opened a roofing business together. In January 2006 the brothers decided to take a week off, their first vacation in years, and travel with eight friends to the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania. They dropped off their vacation video footage—which included film of the brothers and their friends firing guns at a shooting range and playing paintball—at a local Circuit City for duplication. Worried by images of young men with guns shouting “God is Great” in Arabic, a Circuit City clerk called the FBI and turned copies of the footage over to them.
Thus began a costly and secret FBI monitoring of the Duka brothers and two others who had vacationed with them, Mohammed Shnewer and Serdar Tatar. This monitoring included the use of two paid informants who moved to Cherry Hill to become part of the local community there and befriended the five men. Over the course of more than a year, the two FBI informants secretly taped hundreds of hours of conversations with the Duka brothers. They also bombarded the brothers with talk of violence, trying to goad them into action and encouraging them to download videos depicting individuals committing violent acts in the name of Islam.
In August 2006, one of the informants drove Mohammed Shnewer to Fort Dix and other sites, a trip the government later characterized as “reconnaissance.” Ten months later, when the Duka brothers went to pick up guns that were being offered for sale to them by one of the informants, they were arrested and charged with weapons possession and conspiracy to attack Fort Dix.
During the course of their trial in 2008, one of the FBI informants testified in court that the brothers had no idea of the plan nor any knowledge of the trip that he had taken Shnewer on to Fort Dix. Nevertheless, the defendants were all found guilty in a case that involved an anonymous jury. Anonymous juries have been criticized for tainting the presumption of innocence, by treating the defendants as so potentially dangerous that anonymity for all of the jurors is necessary to protect their safety.
Eljvir Duka and Mohammed Shnewer received life sentences; Shain and Dritan Duka each received life sentences plus 30 years; and Sedar Tatar got a 33-year sentence. An appeal to the US Supreme Court failed in June 2012. Shain Duka is currently held in USP Big Sandy, Kentucky; Eljvir Duka is in the Communications Management Unit in Terre Haute, Indiana; and Dritan Duka continues to be held in solitary confinement at the federal “supermax” prison in Florence, Colorado (ADX).