The alleged attack would have represented a rare attempt to strike the United States with a technology that successive administrations have deployed against suspected terrorists and insurgents in a half-dozen countries, ranging from Afghanistan to Yemen, over the past decade.
When he was arrested in Framingham, Mass., Ferdaus had already acquired one remote-controlled aircraft, a small-scale model of the F-86 Sabre, a Cold War-era U.S. fighter jet, the FBI affidavit said. He was also planning to expand his attack to include an immediate follow-on assault at both sites with two three-man teams wielding automatic weapons, the FBI said.
In recent years, the FBI has increasingly relied on undercover operatives to build cases against suspected terrorists, an approach that officials say has been effective in preventing attacks. Undercover law enforcement operatives have secretly befriended those suspected of plotting terrorist attacks and, in some case, made available the means to carry them out. These methods have drawn criticism from some Muslims who accuse the government of unfairly targeting their community, and from defense lawyers who say such tactics can constitute entrapment.
The FBI undercover agents provided Ferdaus with the money to buy the drones, but law enforcement officials said Ferdaus came up with the idea for the attack. Prosecutors said Ferdaus “was presented with multiple opportunities to back out of his plan, including being told that his attack would likely kill women and children,” but that he “never wavered in his desire to carry out the attacks.”
A graduate of Northeastern University in Boston who lived in the basement of his parents’ home in Ashland, Mass., Ferdaus began planning to commit violent jihad against the United States in early 2010 after viewing radical Web sites and videos, the FBI said.
In a series of recorded conversations with a former felon who was cooperating with the FBI and two undercover agents, Ferdaus described Americans as the “enemies of Allah” and said he wanted to “decapitate” the U.S. government’s “military center,” according to the affidavit.
Ferdaus believed the undercover FBI agents were recruiters for al-Qaeda, and Ferdaus supplied them with seven mobile phones that he modified to act as electrical switches for improvised explosive devices in Iraq.
A law enforcement official said the devices could have worked as intended. “He had some capabilities,” said the official who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss an ongoing case.