A Massachusetts man was arrested and charged Wednesday with plotting to attack the Pentagon and U.S. Capitol with a remote-controlled aircraft filled with plastic explosives, federal officials said.
Rezwan Ferdaus, 26, of Ashland, was also charged with attempting to provide material support and resources to al-Qaida in order to carry out attacks on U.S. soldiers stationed overseas.
Ferdaus was arrested Wednesday in Framingham when undercover federal agents delivered materials he had requested for his alleged plan, including grenades, six machine guns and what Ferdaus believed was C-4 explosive.
According to a federal affidavit, Ferdaus said he wanted to deal a psychological blow to Americans, the "enemies of Allah," by hitting the Pentagon, which he called "head and heart of the snake."
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."
Ferdaus is a U.S. citizen who graduated from Northeastern University graduate with a degree in physics, according to the U.S. Attorney for Massachusetts.
“The conduct alleged today shows that Mr. Ferdaus had long planned to commit violent acts against our country, including attacks on the Pentagon and our nation’s Capitol. Thanks to the diligence of the FBI and our many other law enforcement partners, that plan was thwarted,” U.S. Attorney Carmen M. Ortiz said in a press release.
The public was never in danger from the explosive devices, which were controlled by undercover FBI employees, Ortiz said.
According to court documents:
Ferdaus began planning to commit a violent “jihad” against the U.S. in early 2010. He modified cell phones to act as an electrical switch for explosives and supplied them to undercover FBI agents, whom he believed to be members of, or recruiters for, al-Qaida.
Ferdaus believed that the devices would be used to kill American soldiers overseas. In a meeting with undercover agents last June, he was told that his first phone detonation device had killed three U.S. soldiers and injured four or five others in Iraq. Ferdaus responded, “That was exactly what I wanted.”
In recorded conversations starting in January, Ferdaus stated that he planned to attack the Pentagon using aircraft similar to “small drone airplanes” filled with C-4 explosives and guided by GPS. He later expanded his plan to include an attack on the U.S. Capitol.
In May and June, Ferdaus delivered two thumb drives to the undercover agents containing step-by-step information on how he planned to attack the Pentagon and Capitol. The plans included using three remote-controlled aircraft and six people, including himself whom he described as an “amir,” an Arabic term meaning leader.
Ferdaus envisioned causing a large “psychological” impact by killing Americans, including women and children, who he referred to as “enemies of Allah,” prosecutors said.
At one point, he confided his desire to attack the United States was so strong that “I just can't stop; there is no other choice for me.”
In May, Ferdaus traveled from Boston to Washington and conducted surveillance and took photographs of the Pentagon and Capitol. He also photographed sites at the East Potomac Park from which he planned to launch his aircraft filled with explosives, court documents allege.
On Wednesday, before his to arrest, Ferdaus received from the undercover agents 25 pounds of what he believed to be C-4 explosives, six fully-automatic AK-47 assault rifles and grenades. He was arrested after storing the "explosives" and firearms in a rented storage unit in Framingham.
If convicted Ferdaus faces up to 15 years in prison on the material support and resources to a foreign terrorist organization charge; up to 20 years in prison on the charge of attempting to destroy national defense premises; and a five-year minimum mandatory in prison and up to 20 years on the charge of attempting to damage and destroy buildings that are owned by the United States, by using an explosive. On each charge Ferdaus also faces up to three years of supervised release and a $250,000 fine.
The case was investigated by the FBI, with assistance from the Worcester, Ashland and Framingham Police Departments and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.