WORCESTER, Mass. – A lawyer for a man accused of plotting to fly explosives-packed remote-controlled planes into the Pentagon and the U.S. Capitol suggested Friday that the FBI ignored signs of mental illness while investigating him.
The suggestion came during a bail hearing for Rezwan Ferdaus, who faces charges including attempting to provide material support to terrorists and attempting to damage and destroy national defense premises.
Ferdaus, a Muslim American with a physics degree from Boston's Northeastern University, was arrested in Framingham in September after federal employees posing as Al Qaeda members delivered what he believed was 24 pounds of C-4 explosives.
FBI special agent Bradley Davis, testifying for prosecutors, said Ferdaus, 26, asked undercover FBI employees he believed were Al Qaeda members to get him C-4 explosives, AK-47 assault rifles and grenades so he could carry out the attacks. Davis said Ferdaus also showed the undercover employees a cellphone he had fashioned into a detonator. Davis said FBI bomb technicians analyzed the device and "came to the conclusion that it could actually be used" to detonate explosives.
"The device would function to provide an electrical impetus to an improvised explosive device," Davis said.
Davis said the FBI began investigating Ferdaus, of Ashland, in 2010. In January 2011, an informant cooperating with the FBI secretly recorded Ferdaus as the two men talked about the attacks, prosecutors said.
In a portion of the recording played in court Friday, Ferdaus can be heard talking about "a small drone airplane that can be programmed to hit a target."
Davis said Ferdaus provided two detailed plans to the undercover employees in May and June.
In one, he summarized the plot to attack the Pentagon and the U.S. Capitol, including launch site locations and target locations, flight route descriptions and photographs of the buildings with arrows drawn in to show the points of impact, prosecutors said.
The other was similar, except it also included a "ground assault," the prosecution said. That plan said that when Pentagon employees ran from the building after the explosion, they would be "corralled into certain locations, and others enlisted would gun them down with automatic weapons and grenades," Davis said.
Davis said the undercover employees repeatedly asked Ferdaus if he wanted to continue with his plan.
"Each time that they asked if he was continuing this, he indicated that was all he wanted to do, that was his mission, that's what he was here for," Davis said.
Davis said Ferdaus told the men he wanted to hurt the United States, which he referred to as "the snake."
"It was an evil land. The United states was evil and an enemy to Islam," Davis said, recalling the conversation.
During cross-examination by Ferdaus' lawyer, Miriam Conrad, Davis acknowledged that Ferdaus told the undercover employees he was anxious and depressed and was having "intrusive thoughts" in the month before his arrest.
He also acknowledged that the FBI had received during the investigation reports about bizarre behavior by Ferdaus, including a report to Hopkinton police in February that he was standing in the road not moving and appeared to have wet his pants.
Conrad asked Davis whether those reports "gave the FBI concern about the mental health of the target."
"It's a consideration, but it's not a concern," Davis said. "Our concern was for public safety."
Davis added, "Even individuals with mental health issues are a danger and a threat to the public."
Conrad also challenged the credibility of the informant who first talked to Ferdaus. Davis acknowledged that the informant had a criminal record and "substance abuse issues."
Conrad said the man was a heroin addict who had been arrested twice while working as an informant for the FBI.
The bail hearing for Ferdaus, who has denied the charges against him, is scheduled to continue on Nov. 14.