WASHINGTON -- A 26-year-old Massachusetts man was arrested Wednesday and charged in a plot to fly explosive-packed, remote control aircraft into the Pentagon and U.S. Capitol.
Federal prosecutors allege in court documents that Rezwan Ferdaus outlined an elaborate plan to undercover FBI agents posing as al-Qaeda operatives that involved the use of three drone aircraft carrying deadly payloads to attack and destroy the iconic federal government landmarks.
Prosecutors allege that as recently as May, Ferdaus traveled to Washington to photograph his intended targets and "identified sites at the East Potomac Park from which to launch his airplanes filled with explosives."
Ferdaus, a U.S. citizen who holds a physics degree from Boston's Northeastern University, was arrested Wednesday after allegedly accepting delivery of materials, including three grenades, six Ak-47 assault rifles and a quantity of what he believed to be powerful C-4 explosives.
The suspect, according to court documents, had rented a storage unit in Framingham, Mass., where he allegedly intended to "build his attack planes and maintain all his equipment." The suspect already had obtained one of the drone planes, an F-86 Sabre replica, from a Florida distributor under a false name, investigators alleged.
U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz said all of the weaponry was in the control of undercover agents who were closely monitoring the plot's developments. She said the public was never in danger.
The suspect made his initial court appearance Wednesday afternoon in Worcester, Mass., where a federal judge scheduled a Monday detention hearing.
Attorney Catherine Byrne was appointed to represent Ferdaus. She did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Ferdaus is charged with providing material support to a terrorist organization, attempting to destroy national defense property and attempting to destroy federal buildings using explosives. The most serious charges, the counts involving destruction of federal property, carry maximum penalties of 20 years in prison.
According to court documents, Ferdaus allegedly began to commit jihad, or holy war, against the U.S. in early 2010 when he provided undercover FBI agents with mobile phones modified to serve as electrical switches for improvised explosive devices.
"Ferdaus believed that the devices would be used to kill American soldiers overseas,'' prosecutors alleged.
During a June meeting with undercover agents, Ferdaus "appeared gratified" when falsely told that his first phone device had killed three U.S. soldiers and wounded others in Iraq.
"That was exactly what I wanted," Ferdaus allegedly told the agents posing as terror operatives.
In recorded conversations, Ferdaus told agents in January about plans to attack the Pentagon using drone aircraft. He later "expanded'' the plot in April to include the U.S. Capitol. And in the following months, according to court documents, he provided agents with "detailed attack plans."
"During various recorded meetings, Ferdaus envisioned causing a large psychological impact by killing Americans, including women and children who he referred to as enemies of Allah," federal investigators alleged in the documents.
After returning from the May surveillance trip to Washington, Ferdaus allegedly told the undercover agents that the plan needed to be expanded even further, to include a "ground'' component. That plan, according to court documents, included six heavily armed gunmen, to be divided into two teams. According to the plan, they would be directed to create "chaos'" and "take out" everyone.