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Witness says civilian access to Fort Dix common

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Witness says civilian access to Fort Dix common

This artist's drawing shows defendants Shain Duka, bottom left, Eljvir Duka, Dritan Duka, Mohamad Ibrahim Shnewer and Serdar Tatar in a federal courtroom in Camden, N.J., Monday, Oct. 20, 2008. Opening arguments were presented Monday in their trial on charges the five men were planning to kill soldiers at Fort Dix, New Jersey. The suspects were arrested in May 2007 and are accused of attempted murder, conspiracy to murder uniformed military personnel and weapons offenses. U.S. District Judge Robert Kugler is seen top center.

    CAMDEN, N.J. — The first witness to take the stand in the trial of five men accused of plotting to attack soldiers at the Army’s Fort Dix testified Tuesday that civilians commonly have access to the base in New Jersey.
    Col. Ronald Thaxton, the base commander, said civilians can be on Fort Dix for many reasons and that maps of part of the base are available on a military Web site.
    Five men — all foreign-born Muslims in their 20s — are charged with attempted murder, conspiracy to kill military personnel and weapons offenses. They could be sentenced to life in prison if they’re convicted in a case that the government has presented as one of the most frightening terrorist plots against America.
    Thaxton was called to the stand by prosecutors to outline basic facts about the 30,000-acre installation, which is currently used to train troops for deployments to Iraq. He said guards at the base’s main gate are armed with 9 mm pistols.
    Defense lawyers maintain that there was no sophisticated plot to attack the base and that the government has made innocent activities seem dangerous.
    Prosecutors say one of the suspects provided a map of the base, and that another conducted surveillance by driving onto the base.
    But under cross examination, Thaxton said civilians can be on base to golf, play or watch soccer matches, visit a museum or even go to a municipal court to contest traffic tickets.
    He also acknowledged that maps of the area are available online, but said those maps are not particularly detailed.

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