Ashland man pleads not guilty to terrorism charges as family voices support

WORCESTER – Ashland resident Rezwan Ferdaus pleaded not guilty today in federal court to charges that he plotted to fly remote-controlled airplanes loaded with plastic explosives into federal buildings in Washington D.C.

Relatives of Ferdaus, a 26-year-old Northeastern University graduate, shouted their support and broke into tears today when he walked into a court. He pleaded not guilty to all six charges before Magistrate Judge Timothy S. Hillman, who endorsed a defense request and postponed a detention hearing for Ferdaus until Oct. 20.

If convicted on all six counts and given the maximum on each, Ferdaus would be imprisoned for about 85 years.

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Ferdaus’ defense attorney, federal public defender Catherine Byrne, told reporters after Ferdaus’ brief appearance in US District Court that her client is the victim of the FBI and US Attorney Carmen Ortiz’ office, which conducted an undercover investigation that led to his arrest last week.

“This case was orchestrated and facilitated by the government,’’ Byrne said. She did not elaborate.

The hearing marked Ferdaus’ first public appearance since his arrest and the revelation in federal court records of his alleged efforts to modify cellphones into control switches for improvised explosive devices that would be used to kill American servicemen and women.

It was also apparently the first time his relatives have seen him since his arrest last Wednesday. As Ferdaus was brought into the courtroom before Hillman took the bench, friends and relatives shouted words of encouragement.

“We’re all here for you!’’ one relative shouted.

A woman who said she was an aunt — and who shouted at reporters to stay away from the family as they entered the courthouse — burst into tears when Ferdaus walked in wearing a brown prison jumpsuit.

His mother sobbed heavily before the hearing began, and kept sobbing softly into a white tissue during the 30-minute proceeding. When it was over, Ferdaus’ mother had to be helped to her feet and guided out of the courtroom by relatives.

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Ferdaus’ father kept an outwardly stoic appearance while his son sat next to Byrne with his eyes downcast, betraying no emotion.

When the hearing ended, Ferdaus’ relatives again shouted more encouragement.

“We love you!’’ one shouted. “Hang in there!’’ added another. “We’re here for you.’’

Ferdaus was indicted last week on federal charges of attempting to damage and destroy a federal building by means of an explosive, attempting to damage and destroy national defense premises, receiving firearms and explosive materials, and attempting to provide material support to terrorists and terrorist organizations.

Prosecutors say that Ferdaus planned to launch three explosive-laden, remote-controlled planes, each the size of an adult’s body, into the Pentagon and the US Capitol “to kill as many people as possible.’’ He allegedly planned to launch them from East Potomac Park, and a six-man team would then shoot at anyone fleeing the buildings.

“Once we cut off the military, we can take care of the politicians,’’ he allegedly told undercover agents, according to the indictment unsealed last week.

Prosecutors say Ferdaus delivered detailed plans to two FBI agents posing as Al Qaeda recruiters, and he asked for their help in acquiring the model planes, C-4 explosives, and AK-47 assault rifles.

He acquired one plane in August. The agents delivered the guns and 25 pounds of explosives last Wednesday to Ferdaus, who put them in a storage unit he had rented in Framingham. He was then taken into custody.

Prosecutors also said in court papers that Ferdaus gave the undercover agents 12 cellphones rigged to act as switches for an improvised explosive device. He allegedly appeared gratified when he was told that one of the detonation devices succeeded in killing three US soldiers and injuring at least four others, exclaiming, “That’s exactly what I wanted,’’ according to the indictment.

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