A Massachusetts man with a degree in physics was charged with plotting to blow up the Pentagon and the US Capitol using remote-controlled airplanes filled with explosives.
Rezwan Ferdaus, 26, was arrested in Framingham after undercover federal agents delivered materials he had allegedly requested, including grenades, six machine guns and what he believed was 11kg 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.
The arrest on Wednesday 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 skyscapers 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 US early last year after becoming convinced the US was evil through jihadi Web sites and videos. He contacted a federal informant in December and months later allegedly began meeting to discuss the plot with undercover federal agents he believed were members of al-Qaeda.
A US citizen who graduated from Northeastern University with a bachelor’s degree in physics, 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 on Wednesday in federal court on charges of attempting to destroy federal buildings and providing support to a foreign terrorist organization, al-Qaeda. A detention hearing was scheduled for Monday.
Terrorism arrests involving federal stings have often been followed by claims of entrapment, but none of the cases brought since Sept. 11, 2001, has been thrown out by a court on such grounds.
US Representative William Keating, 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.
Ferdaus is accused of planning to use three remote-controlled airplanes measuring from 1.5m to 2m in length. He allegedly planned to pack 2.3kg 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 160kph, 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.
Ferdaus traveled to Washington in June to do surveillance, the affidavit said, and he 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.