Video: FBI foils terror plot against DC landmarks

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    >>> coming up. we begin this morning with the terror arrest tied to a plot to use large scale model planes filled with explosives to attack the pentagon and u.s. capitol . pete williams is in washington with details.

    >> reporter: the fbi says this was an elaborate plot to attack the two washington landmarks and then shoot at people as they fled but the man accused of planning it was under fbi surveillance constantly. on wednesday agents arrested rezwan ferdaus in massachusetts, a u.s. citizen born here. fbi agents searched his house, accusing him of plotting for the past nine months to bomb the capitol and pentagon. they say he planned to use six-foot-long remote-controlled model airplanes , three in all, filled with plastic explosives . he wanted to fly them into the pentagon and the capitol. investigators say he came to washington last may and took a surveillance picture of the pentagon. the fbi says he thought he was meeting here with al qaeda recruiters who helped with his plot. what he did not know was that they turned out to be fbi undercover operatives. he actually had to borrow the money from them to buy the model plane and his airplane ticket to washington . he never had any explosives either. so the fbi says while he was deadly serious about wanting to be a terrorist, he lacked the means to carry out an attack, ann.

    >> what do we know about what exactly tipped the fbi off to this man?

    >> reporter: well, we're told it was a tip from a source. typically the fbi hears about people in cases like this because they brag to others about what they're planning or they make comments on internet chat rooms or send videos to youtube.

    >> all right. pete williams , thank

NBC News and news services
updated 9/29/2011 9:41:04 AM ET 2011-09-29T13:41:04

A Massachusetts man whose elaborate plan to attack the Pentagon and the U.S. Capitol involved using remote-controlled airplanes filled with explosives never posed a danger to the public, officials said.

Rezwan Ferdaus, a 26-year-old with a physics degree from Northeastern University, remained in federal custody Thursday after he was arrested in Framingham, Mass. He was detained 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.

Ferdaus allegedly traveled to Washington in May to conduct surveillance on the targets and meet with men he thought were al-Qaida recruiters, but who turned out to be undercover FBI operatives, NBC News' Pete Williams reported.

After his trip to Washington, Ferdaus drew up a 15-phase attack plan, the federal affidavit alleges. 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.

In a conversation with a federal informant, Ferdaus allegedly explained how in ancient times, God uses natural disasters to punish evil civilizations, and he would use them today. "For us, we've gotta do that," he said, according to the affidavit. "Allah has given us the privilege ... he punishes them by our hand. We're the ones."

The public was never in danger from the explosive devices, which were controlled by undercover FBI employees, U.S. Attorney Carmen M. Ortiz said in a press release.

Read the criminal complaint (.PDF)

Sting operations
The arrest was the latest of several terrorism cases to spring from federal sting operations. In other cases, reputed would-be terrorists became involved in fictional plots against various targets, such as Dallas skyscrapers or a Chicago nightclub. In this case, though, authorities say Ferdaus planned the scheme.

A federal affidavit says Ferdaus, of Ashland, began planning "jihad" against the United States in early 2010 after becoming convinced America was evil through jihadi websites and videos. 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-Qaida.

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 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, al-Qaida. A detention hearing was scheduled for Monday.

Video: FBI foils terror plot against DC landmarks (on this page)

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, N.Y.; Portland, Ore.; and Virginia.

Terrorism arrests involving federal stings have often been followed by claims of entrapment, but none of the cases brought since Sept. 11 has been thrown out by a court on such grounds.

U.S. Rep. 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-Qaida is casting a wide net to radicalize individuals or small groups already in the country because of the significant advantages.

Ferdaus is accused of planning to use three remote control airplanes measuring from 60 to 80 inches in length. He allegedly planned to pack five pounds of explosives in each plane, while saving some of it to blow up bridges near the Pentagon.

Image: Remote plane terror attack plan
U.S. Attorney's office via EPA
A photo of the remote-controlled scale model of a U.S. Navy F-4 Phantom fighter plane that was included as part of a criminal complaint and affidavit filed against Rezwan Ferdaus.
The planes, guided by GPS and capable of speeds greater than 100 mph, 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 attack with six people divided into two teams, all armed with automatic weapons, according to the affidavit.

Prosecutors also accuse Ferdaus of supplying the undercover agents with cellphone 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 U.S. soldiers in Iraq, he allegedly became visibly excited and said he felt "incredible. ... We're changing the world."

Ferdaus is unmarried and has no children, the affidavit said.

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.

NBC News' Pete Williams and The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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