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Model plane bomb plot tests US antiterrorism strategy at home

Rezwan Ferdaus, a US citizen and would-be jihadist, is indicted Thursday in connection with a model plane bomb plot to attack the Pentagon and the Capitol. His arrest is the latest example of what authorities warn is home-grown violent extremism.

By Staff writer / September 29, 2011

Law enforcement officials at the home of Rezwan Ferdaus in Ashland, Mass. Ferdaus was arrested by federal agents in a sting operation and charged with plotting to blow up the Pentagon and the US Capitol using remote-controlled airplanes filled with explosives.

Yoon S. Byun/The Boston Globe/AP

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The arrest this week of a man the FBI says is a would-be Islamic terrorist is now Exhibit A in the US fight against home-grown violent extremism – a textbook case in what to look for and how to respond to “lone-wolf” jihadis intent on doing their fellow Americans harm.

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The essence of the strategy is to find and track such individuals as they troll the Internet for terrorist websites, then use undercover agents or willing civilians to set up a sting operation in which the suspect is allowed to continue plotting right up until the moment the trap snaps shut and the arrest is made.

One important feature here is to give such suspects chances to back off – asking if they know that innocent civilians could be killed, for example – so that illegal entrapment does not stymie the government’s case.

That’s the way the FBI and other law enforcement agencies say they were able to arrest Rezwan Ferdaus, a US citizen and graduate of Boston’s Northeastern University with a degree in physics, charging him with plotting to kill US soldiers overseas as well as planning to attack the Pentagon and the US Capitol with explosives carried by remote control aircraft.

The Obama administration’s antiterrorism strategy includes Al Qaeda’s America-based “adherents” as a principal target. According to the affidavit in Mr. Ferdaus’s case, he thought he was working with members of Al Qaeda.

John Brennan, deputy national security adviser for homeland security and counterterrorism, describes such adherents as “individuals, sometimes with little or no direct physical contact with Al Qaeda, who have succumbed to its hateful ideology and who have engaged in, or facilitated, terrorist activities here in the United States.”

“These misguided individuals are spurred on by the likes of Al Qaeda’s Adam Gadahn and Anwar al-Awlaki in Yemen, who speak English and preach violence in slick videos over the Internet,” Mr. Brennan said in a speech to the School of Advanced International Studies in June.

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