A Massachusetts man was sentenced to 17 years in prison and 10 years of supervised release for plotting to fly remote-controlled model planes packed with explosives into the Pentagon and U.S. Capitol and attempting to provide terrorists with detonation devices.
Rezwan Ferdaus, a 27-year-old Muslim-American from Ashland, was arrested in September 2011 after federal employees posing as al-Qaida members delivered what he believed was 24 pounds of explosives.
The FBI first learned of Ferdaus’s plot while undercover agents posing as al Qaeda recruiters were accepting cell phones he modified to serve as electrical switches for improvised explosive devices to be used overseas, according to court documents.
Ferdaus planned to launch C-4-filled remote-controlled planes from East Potomac Park, authorities said. His plot also included two teams of three people armed with automatic weapons that would fire on the targets following the explosions in order to “take out” everyone amid the chaos.
During the investigation, undercover agents told Ferdaus more than 25 times that it was OK to back out and not carry out the plot, but he repeatedly reaffirmed his commitment to the plot.
Federal officials said the public was never in danger from the explosives.
The defense had suggested that the FBI ignored signs of mental illness in Ferdaus while investigating him. During a bail hearing last year, an FBI agent acknowledged that Ferdaus told undercover agents that he was anxious and depressed and having "intrusive thoughts" in the months before his arrest.
After he was sentenced, his lawyer, Miriam Conrad, said Ferdaus was being treated by a psychiatrist for depression and anxiety in August 2011, a month before his arrest.
U.S. District Judge Richard Stearns said he had received a series of letters from Ferdaus' family and friends that painted a portrait of a "much loved" man who had lived "90 percent" of his life in a positive way.
"Everyone noticed that there was a point when Mr. Ferdaus' life turned darker," Stearns said.
In a letter to Stearns, Ferdaus' parents, Showket and Anamaria Ferdaus, said he slipped into a depression during his senior year at Northeastern, which led to mental illness that was "obviously visible" to his family since late 2009. They said they tried to get him to see a doctor but he would not.
"We took a very cautious approach. After all, he was over 18 and we could not force him to see a doctor. That is the American way. We felt helpless," they wrote in their letter.
After the hearing, Ferdaus' mother was mobbed by television cameras. "My son is innocent," she cried. "Go investigate your government."
Ferdaus will receive credit for the 13 months he spent in prison while awaiting trial. The U.S. Bureau of Prisons will decide where Ferdaus serves his sentence.
As he left the courtroom in handcuffs, his family stood and shouted, "We love you, Rezwan!" ''Stay strong, Rez!" and "See you on the other side!"