Reporting from Washington — The FBI arrested a Massachusetts man Wednesday in an alleged plot to blow up the U.S. Capitol and the Pentagon in which authorities say he provided "step-by-step" instructions on attacking Washington with drone-like, remote-controlled model airplanes.
Rezwan Ferdaus, 26, a U.S. citizen and Northeastern University physics graduate from Ashland, Mass., had been approached in an undercover FBI operation after an informant came forward. Ferdaus allegedly told undercover personnel posing as Al Qaeda members that he had scoped out a site next to the Potomac River to load small aircraft with C-4 plastic explosives and use GPS equipment to remotely fly them over the Capitol.
He also allegedly created components for improvised explosive devices to be used against U.S. troops in Iraq, and the undercover workers told him his devices had killed Americans there. According to an FBI affidavit, he replied, "That was exactly what I wanted."
The affidavit calls those participating in the sting "undercover employees of the FBI," not FBI agents.
Authorities said the public was never in danger and that they shut down the sting after they had enough evidence to charge Ferdaus. He was arrested in Framingham, Mass., after undercover workers delivered materials they said he requested, including grenades, six machine guns and what Ferdaus allegedly believed to be explosives.
FBI Agent Gary C. Cacace, the lead agent in the case, said in the federal court affidavit that Ferdaus sought jihad against the U.S. as early as last year, and considered Americans "enemies of Allah." At one point, Ferdaus allegedly told the undercover workers that he was so driven, "I just can't stop; there is no other choice for me."
Ferdaus appeared in federal court in Worcester, Mass., on charges of trying to destroy a national defense facility and the Capitol and attempting to provide material support to Al Qaeda. He was ordered to remain in custody, and was expected to enter a not-guilty plea when he returns to court Monday. If convicted on all charges, he could face up to 55 years in prison.
"Mr. Ferdaus had long planned to commit violent acts against our country," said Carmen M. Ortiz, the U.S. attorney in Massachusetts. "That plan was thwarted."
Cacace's affidavit included these allegations: Ferdaus last year began planning the attacks using remote-controlled model aircraft carrying explosives. He gave the undercover workers two flash drives with step-by-step instructions on how to hit the Capitol and Pentagon from the air. He said he would use three planes and five assistants, and called himself the amir, or commander.
Despite Ferdaus' claim of enlisting others in his plot, federal authorities said, they considered him a "lone wolf" and were not investigating anyone else.
"We've eliminated the threat," said one official, who asked not to be identified because the case was continuing.
With money provided by the FBI's undercover workers, the affidavit says, Ferdaus "researched, ordered and acquired necessary components for his attack plans." He allegedly acquired one remote-controlled plane, 25 pounds of C-4 explosives, six fully automatic AK-47 assault rifles, and grenades. He allegedly created an alias, Dave Winfield, rented a storage locker and opened a PayPal account to create a cover story. Although single and childless, he told a Florida distributor the plane was for his son, the affidavit says.
Ferdaus allegedly built the improvised explosive devices he thought were for Iraq with seven cellphones after soldering wires in the back covers to act as electrical switches for the explosives. According to the affidavit, he told the undercover workers he wanted "to kill the kafir [nonbeliever] armies and … as many people as possible."
His alleged motivation remains unclear. According to the affidavit, the FBI learned of him through a confidential witness who stepped forward. During Ferdaus' meetings with undercover personnel, he allegedly spoke of wanting to "decapitate" the U.S. government's "military center" and to "severely disrupt … the head and heart of the snake."
He allegedly wanted to hit the Pentagon first, saying, "Once we hit the military, we can take care of the politicians."
"It would be nice," he allegedly added, "to gun down some politicians."