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Arrested Ashland Man Wanted To 'Kill As Many People As Possible'

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An Ashland man is in federal custody Thursday morning, accused of plotting terrorist attacks on U.S. soldiers overseas and on U.S. landmarks. Authorities arrested 26-year-old Rezwan Ferdaus Wednesday after an elaborate undercover operation.

WBUR's Deborah Becker joined Morning Edition Thursday with more details.

Bob Oakes: What are the charges against Ferdaus?

Deborah Becker: Ferdaus is charged with attempting to destroy government buildings, specifically the U.S. Capitol and the Pentagon, with remote controlled drone aircraft full of explosives. He‘s also charged with trying to supply materials to al-Qaida and with trying to kill U.S. troops overseas.

Authorities say Ferdaus claimed that he wanted to deal a psychological blow to '"the enemies of Allah," and he's alleged to have said he wanted to "kill as many people as possible."

Authorities found this out using undercover agents?

That’s right. The 42-page affidavit in this case outlines extensive alleged conversations recorded between undercover agents and Ferdaus. These agents say they told Ferdaus that they were recruiters for al-Qaida. They allege that Ferdaus, a 2008 graduate of Northeastern University with a degree in physics, wanted to commit violent jihad against the United States.

He allegedly told the undercover agents that he designed cellphones to be used as detonators to set off explosives. Some of the detonators allegedly were to be used against U.S. troops overseas. At one point, according to the affidavit, the undercover agents told him — falsely of course — that his detonation device had killed us soldiers in Iraq, and he said “that’s exactly what I wanted.”

The affidavit also says that Ferdaus made a training video about how to cheaply construct cellphone detonators and wanted to provide these devices to other al-Qaida members.

What about his alleged plan to bomb the Capitol building and the Pentagon?

The affidavit says that Ferdaus received about $7,000 from the agents to purchase the remote controlled drone aircraft. These planes are about 5.5 feet long, about 4 feet wide and are models of U.S. military fighter jets. These aircraft apparently can get up to speeds of about 150 mph and carry about 12 pounds.

This remote-controlled aircraft is similar to the model Ferdaus was planning to use to fill with explosives and detonate at the U.S. Capitol building and the Pentagon. (Courtesy U.S. Attorney's Office)
This remote-controlled aircraft is similar to the model Ferdaus was planning to use to fill with explosives and detonate at the U.S. Capitol building and the Pentagon. (Courtesy U.S. Attorney's Office)

The agents told Ferdaus they would supply the explosives that would fill the aircraft. These planes and detonators were stored at a storage facility in Framingham under the alias David Winfield.

These aircraft were intended to escape detection from commercial flight patterns so they could be directed at the Capitol and the Pentagon.

Ferdaus is alleged to have provided the agents with computer thumb drives and plans to carry out the bombings. At one point, authorities allege that Ferdaus also expressed an interest in attacking a subway station, killing politicians and bombing bridges near the Pentagon. Yet authorities emphasize the public was never in danger because Ferdaus was always under surveillance.

Why did they decide to arrest him on Wednesday?

On Wednesday the undercover agents arranged to deliver explosives, grenades and AK-47 assault rifles to Ferdaus. They said after Ferdaus took the explosives and firearms and locked them in his storage unit he was arrested.

What do we know about Ferdaus and his life here in Massachusetts?

Ferdaus lived with his brother and parents on a quiet suburban street in Ashland. He is unmarried, no children. As we said he is a 2008 graduate of Northeastern. He went to Ashland High School and was on the track team with his brother. He was also the drummer in a few local bands.

He was in trouble about eight years ago and was questioned about a high school prank and whether that was related to two other incidents at the high school, one of which was the burning of a U.S. flag. Ferdaus reportedly admitted to the prank, but denied involvement in the flag burning.

One young man I ran into the Ashland police station Wednesday night was filling out a report about a man who he thinks was Ferdaus approaching the drive-through window at McDonalds last weekend. Billy Butler, 16, works at McDonald's:

I was at the first window of the McDonald's drive-through and he just said, 'Hey, guess what's in the back of this van?' I go, 'I dunno.' And he just takes out this big RC remote control kind of thing and he says 'There's a big plane in the back of this van that can go up to 150 mph.'

I was like, 'Oh wow that's really cool. He was like, 'Yeah, it's like a big, cool jet.' I'm like,' Oh that's great,' and he was just going, 'Right, see you.' And I didn't make a big deal out of it at all and then I heard about this and I was like, oh my gosh.

Now the town census lists Ferdaus and his brother as students, his father as an engineer and his mother as a health care provider.

What do others in Ashland say about Ferdaus and his family?

Mostly they’re shocked. They say Ferdaus lived on this quiet suburban street with his parents and brother for the past 13 years. Many of them were gathered outside Wednesday as news helicopters circled overhead and police cruisers and cars clogged their street.

Pam Cahill, who lives down the street, said she would often talk with Anna Ferdaus, Rezwan’s mother:

Anna's very outgoing and very friendly, very talkative. I don't think I've ever spoken to the father. I have encountered the younger one with his dog. He's a very friendly kid. It's very, very surprising. The whole thing is shocking. I think it's just amazing. It's really disturbing.

Most neighbors I spoke with said this was a close neighborhood with frequent block parties and get togethers, but they say the Ferdaus family pretty much kept to themselves.

What happens next?

Ferdaus will be in court for his arraignment on Monday.


This program aired on September 29, 2011.

Deborah Becker Host/Reporter
Deborah Becker is a senior correspondent and host at WBUR. Her reporting focuses on mental health, criminal justice and education.



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