By Ros Krasny
BOSTON (Reuters) - U.S. authorities on Wednesday arrested and charged a Massachusetts man with plotting to damage or destroy the Pentagon and U.S. Capitol by using remote-controlled aircraft filled with plastic explosives.
Rezwan Ferdaus, 26, a U.S. citizen, was also charged with attempting to provide support and resources to al Qaeda in order to carry out attacks on U.S. soldiers overseas, the U.S. attorney's office in Boston said. He was arrested after an undercover operation.
"The conduct alleged today shows that Mr. Ferdaus had long planned to commit violent acts against our country," U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz said in a statement.
The statement said the public was never in danger from the explosive devices, which were controlled by undercover FBI employees.
If convicted Ferdaus faces up to 15 years in jail for providing support to foreign terrorists, up to 20 years on a charge of attempting to destroy national defense premises, and up to 20 years on a charge of attempting to damage and destroy buildings owned by the United States.
In a 42-page affidavit, authorities said the physics graduate from Northeastern University in Boston began planning to commit a violent "jihad" against the United States in early 2010, calling Americans "enemies of Allah."
Ferdaus, of Ashland, Massachusetts, about 25 miles west of Boston, allegedly modified mobile phones to act as electrical switches for improvised explosive devices. He is accused of supplying the phones to the undercover FBI agents, whom he believed were members of, or recruiters for, al Qaeda.
"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,'" the affidavit said.
Ferdaus allegedly told a cooperating witness that he planned to attack the Pentagon using "small drone airplanes" filled with explosives and guided by GPS equipment. He later expanded the plot to include an attack on the U.S. Capitol, and hoped to follow up the aerial assault with a ground assault involving six people armed with automatic weapons, according to the affidavit.
Authorities said Ferdaus traveled to Washington to conduct surveillance and take photographs of his target, and identified sites at East Potomac Park, near the Capitol, from which he planned to launch his explosive-filled aircraft.
He then delivered two thumb drives to the undercover agents with detailed attack plans with step-by-step instructions as to how he planned to attack the Pentagon and Capitol, they said.
An F-86 Sabre remote-controlled aircraft -- a small-scale version of a U.S. fighter jet -- was delivered to Ferdaus' Framingham, Massachusetts, storage unit last month, according to the affidavit.
Ferdaus allegedly ordered the plane using the alias "Dave Winfield."
Ferdaus' arrest came immediately after he took possession of various weaponry from the undercover agents -- including explosives, grenades and AK-47 assault rifles -- and brought them to and locked them in his storage unit, the affidavit said.
Peter King, chairman of the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Homeland Security, said the arrest showed "that the threat of Islamic terrorism transcends socioeconomics and does not only emanate from the poor and under-privileged."
"Ten years after the attacks of 9/11, al Qaeda, its affiliates, and its adherents remain committed to attacking the U.S. homeland," said the New York Republican, citing domestic radicalization and the threat of 'lone wolf' extremists.
Ferdaus, who is being held without bail, did not enter a plea at an initial status hearing in U.S. District Court in Worcester. A detention hearing was set for Monday.
(Reporting by Ros Krasny; Editing by Xavier Briand)