BOSTON — A man was arrested Wednesday and accused of plotting an assault on the Pentagon and US Capitol using remote-controlled aircraft armed with explosives — the latest of several terrorism cases to spring from federal sting operations.
Rezwan Ferdaus was arrested in Framingham, Massachusetts, after undercover federal agents delivered materials he had allegedly requested, including grenades, six machine guns and what he believed was 24 pounds of C-4 explosive. Federal officials said the public was never in danger from the explosives, which it said were always under control and closely monitored.
Wednesday’s arrest was similar to other cases in which reputed would-be terrorists were caught in sting operations that revolved around fictional plots against various targets, such as Dallas skyscapers or a Chicago nightclub. In this case, though, authorities say Ferdaus planned the scheme.
According to a federal affidavit, Ferdaus, 26, of Ashland, became convinced America was evil through jihadi websites and videos, and began planning “jihad” against the US in early 2010. He contacted a federal informant that December and months later, allegedly began meeting to discuss the plot with undercover federal agents he believed were members of al-Qaeda.
Ferdaus said he wanted to deal a psychological blow to the “enemies of Allah” by hitting the Pentagon, which he called “head and heart of the snake,” according to the affidavit.
“Allah has given us the privilege,” he allegedly told the informant.
“…He punishes them by our hand. We’re the ones.”
Ferdaus, a US citizen who graduated from Northeastern University with a bachelor’s degree in physics, made a brief initial appearance Wednesday in federal court on charges of attempting to destroy federal buildings and providing support to a foreign terrorist organization, in this case al-Qaeda. A detention hearing was scheduled for Monday.
Telephone messages were left at the office of his attorney, Catherine. Byrne, and at the address listed for Ferdaus in the affidavit.
Several alleged domestic plots have been thwarted since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, including in Lackawanna, New York; Portland, Oregon; and Virginia.
Terrorism arrests involving federal stings have often been followed by claims of entrapment, but none of the cases brought since September 11 has been thrown out by a court on such grounds.
US Representative William Keating of Massachusetts, a member of the Homeland Security Committee, said lawmakers have been warned for months of an emerging threat from homegrown extremists. He said al- Qaeda is casting a wide net to radicalize individuals or small groups already in the country because of the significant advantages.
“They’re already here, so they don’t have the hurdles of getting into the country, they know the country better. … They know how to move around,” Keating said. “The testimony we heard, things like this [the Ferdaus arrest] were inevitable.”
Ferdaus is accused of planning to use three remote control airplanes measuring up to 80 inches (200 centimeters) in length. Ferdaus allegedly planned to pack five pounds (2.27 kilograms) of explosives in each plane, while saving some of it to blow up bridges near the Pentagon.
The planes, guided by GPS and capable of speeds greater than 100 mph (160 kph), would hit the Pentagon and blow the Capitol dome to “smithereens,” according to Ferdaus’ plan, detailed in the affidavit.
Ferdaus then planned a follow-up automatic weapons attack with six people divided into two teams, according to the affidavit.
At one point, according to recorded conversation detailed in the affidavit, Ferdaus told undercover agents that his desire to attack the United States was so strong, “I just can’t stop. There is no other choice for me.”
According to the affidavit, Ferdaus traveled to Washington in June to do surveillance, and drew up a 15-phase attack plan. He also allegedly rented storage space to work on the planes in Framingham, telling the manager he planned to use the space for music.
Asked at one point about possibly killing women and children, Ferdaus allegedly said all unbelievers of Islam were his enemies.
Prosecutors also accuse Ferdaus of supplying the undercover agents with mobile phone devices he said could be used to remotely detonate explosives. When the undercover agents falsely told him the devices had been used to kill three US soldiers in Iraq, he allegedly became visibly excited and said he felt “incredible. We’re changing the world.”
Rezwan is unmarried and has no children, the affidavit said.
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He had at least one previous brush with the law. In 2003, The Boston Globe reported that he and two other Ashland High School seniors were accused in a vandalism spree at the school.