BOSTON (Reuters) - The arrest of a Massachusetts man who allegedly plotted to fly explosives-packed model planes into the Pentagon and U.S. Capitol has reignited concern about the risk of a home-grown militant attack in the United States.
Rezwan Ferdaus, 26, was indicted on Thursday in the explosives plan, as well as for attempting to provide support and resources to al Qaeda in order to carry out attacks on U.S. soldiers overseas.
“Ferdaus’ arrest underscores the need to continue efforts to combat domestic radicalization and the evolving threat of ‘lone wolf’ extremists,” said Peter King, chairman of the House of Representatives Homeland Security Committee.
Ferdaus was born in the United States. His immigrant parents’ national origin was not disclosed, and authorities were treading carefully.
“I want the public to understand that Mr. Ferdaus’ conduct, as alleged in the complaint, is not reflective of a particular culture, community or religion,” U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz said in announcing the arrest.
Massachusetts Congressman Bill Keating said the “home grown” aspect of the Ferdaus case was disturbing.
“People have been told this, but perhaps until now didn’t understand how real it is,” Keating, a first-term Democrat who sits on the homeland security committee, told Reuters.
“When I got to Congress in January I was told we are at enormous risk. These things are very real, and they present the greatest risk,” said Keating.
Ferdaus graduated from Boston’s Northeastern University in 2008 with a degree in physics, and played drums in an alt-rock jam band, The Silk Road, several years ago.
His only previous brush with the law was in 2003 when, according to the Milford Daily News, he and two other seniors at Ashland High School poured concrete in front of 10 of the school’s doors as a prank. They were also accused of burning an American flag.
At the time of his arrest Ferdaus was living with his parents — an engineer and a healthcare worker — in a middle-class neighborhood of Ashland, about 25 miles west of Boston. Real estate sites estimate the 3,141-square-foot, four bedroom white colonial house’s value at $565,000.
“The threat of Islamic terrorism transcends socioeconomics and does not only emanate from the poor and under-privileged,” King said.
Joseph Wippl, a professor at Boston University’s Center for International Relations, said it was folly to think that immersion in U.S. culture somehow inoculated potential criminals from wanting to do harm to the country.
“There are a small group of people who are sociopathic, inclined to violence, who crave attention and who are willing to engage in this type of behavior,” said Wippl, a former CIA operations officer.
“If we watch — in the United States, in Germany, Sweden, the U.K. — things are constantly at a low boil and we always need to be on our guard,” he said.
In its affidavit, U.S. authorities said Ferdaus was unwavering in his resolve to stage a violent “jihad.” He told undercover agents who he thought were members of, or recruiters for, al Qaeda, that his goal was to kill as many “kafirs,” or non-believers, as possible.
Another Massachusetts man, Tarek Mehanna, was arrested in 2009 for a plot to kill U.S. troops in Afghanistan and civilians in shopping malls. He is awaiting trial.
In 2010 two men were arrested in Watertown, Massachusetts, in connection with an attempted bombing in New York’s Times Square. One, Ali Aftab Kahn, was convicted of unwittingly supplying almost $5,000 to the would-be Times Square bomber.
The incidents do not suggest that Massachusetts is a hotbed of anti-American activity, said Wippl. “This can take place just about anywhere.”
Reporting by Ros Krasny; Editing by Jerry Norton