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Updated: 5:43 p.m.
A 26-year-old Massachusetts man was arrested and charged today in connection with a plot to attack the Pentagon and the Capitol, the Justice Department announced.
Rezwan Ferdaus, a U.S. citizen, was accused of planning to use a team of gunmen and remote-controlled aircraft filled with explosives to attack the buildings. He was also charged with attempting to provide support and resources to a foreign terrorist organization — specifically al-Qaida, the group behind the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
“The conduct alleged today shows that Mr. Ferdaus had long planned to commit violent acts against our country,” U.S. Attorney Carmen M. Ortiz said in a statement.
The FBI used undercover operatives and worked with local law enforcement during its investigation of Ferdaus, a Northeastern University graduate with a degree in physics. The affidavit, which lays out a plan to hit the Capitol Dome with one aircraft and the Pentagon with two others, describes Ferdaus as looking forward to the prospect of “gunning down politicians at the Capitol Building.”
Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Chairman Joe Lieberman applauded the arrest as "another FBI success in thwarting a domestic terrorism plot."
"It also shows that the danger of homegrown violent Islamist extremism remains a serious and ever-present threat," the Connecticut Independent said.
House Homeland Security Chairman Peter King also commended the FBI on “an outstanding job.” In an interview today, the New York Republican said the panel had been briefed over five to six months on the FBI’s investigation of Ferdaus.
King has led a series of controversial Congressional hearings on Muslim radicalism, and he said that today’s arrest demonstrates the need for vigilance and that the “main threat” comes from within the United States.
“There’s a narrative out there that it’s going to be some poor, underprivileged guy, treated unfairly by society,” King said, “but this guy was a physicist, well-educated, successful person. ... It just shows how evil this ideology is, how consumed by hatred.”
The Justice Department alleged that Ferdaus “began planning to commit a violent ‘jihad’ against the U.S. in early 2010.” He allegedly modified mobile phones to act as switches for improvised explosive devices and supplied eight of them to undercover FBI employees in the course of the investigation, according to a Justice Department news release.
The Justice Department says it possesses recorded conversations of Ferdaus discussing his plans for attacking the Pentagon and Capitol and calling Americans "enemies of Allah." According to its statement, Ferdaus traveled from Boston to Washington, D.C., in May to conduct surveillance of the buildings and to photograph East Potomac Park, his planned launch site. He later told undercover FBI employees that he intended to expand his aerial plan to include a ground assault of six armed individuals.
Undercover FBI employees delivered C-4 plastic explosives, three grenades and six fully automatic AK-47 assault rifles today to Ferdaus, who had already acquired a remote-controlled F-86 Sabre. According to the affidavit, Ferdaus opened a PayPal account under a false identity to buy the aircraft, which the unmarried, childless man claimed he was purchasing for his son.
He was arrested after taking possession of the explosives and weapons and locking them in a storage unit, the Justice Department statement said. It stressed that the undercover agents were in direct possession of the explosive devices and the public was not in danger from them.
The FBI sought to head off any violence that could be motivated by the news of the arrest.
"It is important to remember that our system of justice is based on the notion of individual responsibility," said Richard DesLauriers, the special agent in charge of the FBI's Boston division. "Therefore, no one should cite Mr. Ferdaus' actions as an excuse or reason to engage in any unlawful behavior against others in the community. We will work diligently to protect the civil rights of all Americans."
If Ferdaus is convicted, he faces up to 15 years in prison on charges of supporting a foreign terrorist organization; up to 20 years in prison on charges of attempting to destroy national defense premises; and up to 20 years in prison on a charge of attempting to damage and destroy U.S. buildings with an explosive.
Ferdaus also faces up to three years of supervised release and a $250,000 fine on each charge.