A 26-year-old Massachusetts man was charged with plotting to use remote-controlled planes filled with plastic explosives for a terrorist attack on the Pentagon and the U.S. Capitol in Washington.
The suspect, Rezwan Ferdaus, a U.S. citizen from Ashland, was arrested yesterday and charged with attempting to destroy national defense premises, attempting to damage and destroy buildings owned by the U.S. government and attempting to provide material support and resources to al-Qaeda, the U.S. Justice Department said in a statement.
A graduate of Northeastern University in Boston with a physics degree, Ferdaus began plotting a “violent jihad” against the U.S. early last year, the Justice Department said in the statement. He modified mobile phones to act as electrical switches for an improvised explosive device and then supplied them to undercover FBI agents whom he believed to be members or recruiters for al-Qaeda, the department said.
Ferdaus believed the devices would be used to kill U.S. soldiers overseas and appeared “gratified” when told in June 2011 that his first device had killed three soldiers and wounded four or five others in Iraq, the Justice Department said.
Ferdaus told a cooperating witness in recorded conversations that began in January that he planned to attack the Pentagon with “small drone airplanes” filled with explosives and guided by GPS equipment, the Justice Department said. He expanded his plan in April to include an attack on the U.S. Capitol.
In May and June, Ferdaus delivered to the undercover agents two thumb drives containing plans for the attack, including step-by-step instructions on how he would strike the Capitol and the Pentagon, the Justice Department said in the statement.
He traveled to Washington from Boston in May and took photographs of the two buildings, as well as sites at East Potomac Park where he planned to launch the aircraft, the Justice Department said. He also planned to use six people armed with automatic firearms to sow chaos in the aftermath of the attack.
Ferdaus selected two remote-controlled airplanes for his attack plans, both of which were scaled-down versions of the F-4 Phantom and F-86 Sabre fighter jets, and acquired one of them, said Gary S. Cacace, an FBI special agent, in a criminal complaint. The planes are 5 feet to about 6 1/2 feet long.
Ferdaus created a false identity under the name “Dave Winfield” for the purpose of acquiring the remote-controlled airplane, opened a PayPal account with that name and made up a cover story to explain why he wanted to buy the plane, telling representatives of a Florida distributor that he was buying it for his son, Cacace said in the complaint.
Ferdaus rented a storage unit in Framingham, Massachusetts, under a false name in June 2011, and the remote-controlled plane was delivered there in August, the Justice Department said.
On Sept. 27, on the morning before his arrest, the undercover officers delivered 25 pounds of what Ferdaus believed to be C-4 plastic explosive, six fully automatic AK-47 machine guns and grenades, the Justice Department said. Ferdaus was arrested yesterday after he brought the explosives to the storage unit and locked them inside.
Ferdaus, who isn’t married and has no children, considers the U.S. an “enemy of Allah,” Cacace said in the complaint. He has a criminal record and has served time in prison, Cacace said.
“With the goal of terrorizing the United States, decapitating its ‘military center’ and killing as many ‘kafirs,’ i.e., an Arabic term meaning non-believers, as possible, Ferdaus extensively planned and attempted to attack the Pentagon and U.S. Capitol,” Cacace said in the complaint.
Ferdaus’ conduct is “not reflective of a particular culture, community or religion,” U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz in Boston said in a statement. “In addition to protecting our citizens from the threats and violence alleged yesterday, we also have an obligation to protect members of every community, race and religion against violence and other unlawful conduct.”
Ferdaus faces as long as 20 years in prison if convicted of the most serious charges. He made an initial appearance in federal court in Worcester, Massachusetts, yesterday and is being held pending a detention hearing scheduled for Oct. 3, Brandy Donini-Melanson, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Boston, said in a phone interview.
Ferdaus’s attorney, Catherine K. Byrne of the Federal Public Defenders’ office in Boston, didn’t immediately return a voice-mail message seeking comment on the charges.
The public was never in danger from the explosive devices, which were controlled by undercover FBI employees, and the defendant was “closely monitored” while his plot developed, the Justice Department said in the statement.
“The fact that Ferdaus is a very well-educated physicist should serve as a reminder to us that that the threat of Islamic terrorism transcends socioeconomics and does not only emanate from the poor and underprivileged,” Republican Congressman Peter King of New York, chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, said in a statement.
The case is U.S. v. Ferdaus, 11-mj-4270, U.S. District Court, District of Massachusetts (Boston.)