An American Muslim acting as a lone-wolf jihadi, who thought he was working with Al Qaeda operatives, was arrested in Massachusetts Wednesday for 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, according to federal officials.
Rezwan Ferdaus is a 26 year-old US citizen and a graduate of Northeastern University in Boston with a degree in physics. According to the criminal complaint filed against him, he is charged with “attempting to destroy federal governmental buildings using an explosive, attempting to destroy national defense premises, and attempting to provide material support to a foreign terrorist organization.”
According to the FBI affidavit in the case, Mr. Ferdaus modified cell phones to be used as devices to trigger roadside bombs in Afghanistan meant to kill US soldiers. He gave these to FBI undercover agents and was pleased when told that they had worked successfully.
Ferdaus also is alleged to have obtained and outfitted small remote-control aircraft he meant to carry C-4 explosives in attacks against the Pentagon and the Capitol, which he had taken surveillance photos of. On the morning of his arrest in Ashland, Mass., about 20 miles from Boston, Ferdaus received C-4 explosives, six fully-automatic AK-47 assault rifles, and grenades from undercover FBI agents. His intention was to have six Al Qaeda operatives join him in the attack.
Like other recent cases involving alleged terror plots against US targets, this one was thwarted through the use of undercover FBI agents and cooperating witnesses. And as with other such cases, it was the suspect’s own words that gave law enforcement officials what they believe to be an easy case to prosecute.
"During a June 2011 meeting, he appeared gratified when he was told that his first phone detonation device had killed three U.S. soldiers and injured four or five others in Iraq. Ferdaus responded, 'That was exactly what I wanted,' " according to a US Department of Justice statement. In fact, the cell phones he had modified never left the United States.
"Ferdaus envisioned causing a large 'psychological' impact by killing Americans, including women and children, who he referred to as 'enemies of Allah,' " the Justice Department statement said. "According to the affidavit, Ferdaus's desire to attack the United States is so strong that he confided, 'I just can't stop; there is no other choice for me.' "
"Although Ferdaus was presented with multiple opportunities to back out of his plan, including being told that his attack would likely kill women and children, the affidavit alleges that Ferdaus never wavered in his desire to carry out the attacks," the Justice Department said.
This train of events very closely follows other recent law enforcement undercover operations in which alleged terrorists essentially ensure their arrest and prosecution with their own words, including the arrest last December of Somalia-born Mohamed Osman Mohamud, who allegedly plotted to explode a bomb at the Pioneer Courthouse Square in Portland, Ore., where thousands of families had gathered for the traditional Christmas tree lighting.
There too, the suspect was told that the action he was plotting could kill many innocent civilians, including children. That seemed to increase the suspect’s desire to succeed.
In a similar case in June, Abu Khalid Abdul-Latif, also known as Joseph Anthony Davis, of Seattle, and Walli Mujahidh, also known as Frederick Domingue Jr., of Los Angeles, were arrested when they arrived at a warehouse to pick up machine guns they intended to use in an alleged terror plot.
The target in that case was the Military Entrance Processing Station just south of Seattle. Some 900 military personnel and civilians work there, many of them for the US Army Corps of Engineers or processing new military recruits. The campus includes a child-care facility.
In another case last year, Pakistani-born US citizen Farooque Ahmed of Ashburn, Va., was charged with plotting to carry out a coordinated bombing attack on Metrorail stations in suburban Virginia near Washington, D.C.
The difference in this week’s arrest in Massachusetts is that the intended targets were not “soft” (essentially unguarded) but highly protected targets (the Pentagon, the Capitol, and US forces in war zones) with important symbolic political and national security value.
According to a federal agency assessment obtained earlier this year by the Associated Press, “Our review of attempted attacks during the past two years suggests that lone offenders currently present the greatest threat.”
“Unlike hardened facilities such as active duty military bases and installations, soft targets such as recruiting stations are more likely to be deemed a feasible target due to their easy, open access to the public,” states the assessment, which is marked “for official use only.”
In the years since 9/11, sting operations and the use of informants have become among the most important weapons in the fight against domestic terrorism – in about 30 cases over the past five years or so.