WORCESTER, Mass. — A man accused of plotting to fly remote-controlled model planes packed with explosives into the Pentagon and U.S. Capitol is a “ticking time bomb” who is committed to attacking the United States, a prosecutor said Monday while urging a judge to keep him locked up while he awaits trial.
But attorneys for 26-year-old Rezwan Ferdaus argued for his release from jail, saying he is a mentally troubled man who had a “completely unrealistic fantasy” that had no chance of succeeding.
Ferdaus, of Ashland, was arrested in September after undercover FBI employees posing as members of al-Qaida delivered what they say he believed was 25 pounds of C-4 plastic explosives.
Prosecutors say he asked the undercover agents to get him the explosives, AK-47 assault rifles and grenades so he could carry out the attacks. Authorities say he also showed them cellphones he had fashioned into detonators.
Ferdaus, who has a physics degree from Boston’s Northeastern University, faces six charges, including attempting to provide material support to terrorists and attempting to damage and destroy national defense premises.
His lawyers are asking that he be released on bail and placed in the custody of his father until trial.
Prosecutors argued during a detention hearing Monday in U.S. District Court that he is dangerous and should remain behind bars. There was no immediate ruling from U.S. Magistrate Judge Timothy Hillman.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephanie Siegmann said Ferdaus began plotting an attack on the United States in 2010, before the FBI sent an informant and later undercover employees to meet with him and record their conversations.
FBI agent Bradley Davis testified that agents interviewed Ferdaus in October 2010 after he went into a gun shop, asked about purchasing weapons, acted suspiciously and took a photograph. The gun shop’s owner took down Ferdaus’ license plate, and Ferdaus later was questioned by the FBI.
During the interview, Ferdaus, a Muslim, described America as “a racist nation against Muslims” and questioned the FBI’s authority to interview him, Davis said.
“He was very defensive and fairly uncooperative,” Davis said.
Ferdaus also was questioned by Ashland police after he was seen in the woods near the town’s train station.
“He said, ‘I know this looks very suspicious, but I was just trying to get a good look at the train station,”’ Davis said.
Siegmann, the prosecutor, said Ferdaus provided the men posing as al-Qaida members with two detailed plans — one with a 14-page narrative — describing attacks on the Pentagon and U.S. Capitol building. She said the men posing as al-Qaida members told him more than 30 times that he did not have to go through with the plan but he repeatedly said he wanted to do it.
Siegmann said Ferdaus told the undercovers, “I just can’t stop. There is no other choice for me.”
But Ferdaus’ attorneys challenged the credibility of an FBI informant who was the first to make contact with Ferdaus at his mosque in Worcester, about 40 miles west of Boston, in December 2010.
Under questioning from attorney Miriam Conrad, FBI special agent John Woudenberg acknowledged that the informant, known as Khalil, had been a gang member, had a drug problem and had multiple criminal convictions.
“We were aware that he had issues; he was a difficult to handle informant,” he said.
Woudenberg said the FBI decided to use him with Ferdaus because he was knowledgeable about Islam.
Ferdaus’ lawyers also questioned whether the plan prosecutors say was concocted by Ferdaus was feasible.
Davis testified earlier this month that FBI bomb technicians analyzed a cellphone Ferdaus had fashioned into a detonator and “came to the conclusion that it could actually be used” to detonate explosives.
Under questioning from defense attorney Catherine Byrne on Monday, Davis said the plan was feasible “with modifications.”