BOSTON (Reuters) - The Massachusetts man charged with plotting to attack the Pentagon and the U.S. Capitol with remote-controlled model airplanes filled with explosives entered a guilty plea in a Boston federal court on Friday.
Rezwan Ferdaus told a packed courtroom, including his distraught family members, that he would accept the plea deal for a 17-year prison term that was hammered out by his attorneys and prosecutors this month.
Ferdaus’ mother sobbed as her son was led away by U.S. Marshals at the end of the hearing.
The charges against Ferdaus had carried a potential combined sentence of 35 years in prison. Sentencing will take place on November 1.
Ferdaus, 26, of Ashland, Massachusetts, pled guilty to attempting to destroy and damage a federal building, and attempting to provide material support to terrorists.
He initially pleaded not guilty to a total of six charges after his arrest in September 2011. Authorities dropped four charges in exchange for the guilty plea.
Ferdaus was arrested after an FBI investigation during which he requested and took delivery of plastic explosives, three grenades and six assault rifles from undercover FBI agents that he believed were members of al Qaeda.
At the time of his arrest, the physics graduate from Boston’s Northeastern University had obtained one remote-controlled aircraft, a scale model of a U.S. Navy F-86 Sabre fighter jet about the size of a picnic table.
He kept the model in a storage locker in suburban Boston rented under the name “Dave Winfield.”
Authorities said the public was never in danger from the explosives and weaponry, which they said were always under the control of federal officials during the sting operation.
The government had alleged that Ferdaus told undercover agents of his plans to commit acts of violence against the United States by “decapitating” its “military center” and killing “kafirs,” an Arabic term meaning non-believers.
Ferdaus is a Muslim born and raised in Massachusetts to parents of Bangladeshi descent.
In 2010, while already under surveillance, Ferdaus allegedly supplied 12 mobile phones rigged as electrical switches for improvised explosive devices to FBI agents.
Ferdaus’ attorneys suggested at a bail hearing in late 2011 that their client had mental issues and that his attack plan - which also involved storming the Capitol building with armed accomplices - was “fantasy.”
Reporting by Ros Krasny; Editing by Xavier Briand