On September 29, 2011, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Massachusetts indicted Rezwan Ferdaus, a 26 year old Northeastern University physics graduate. The indictment states that Mr. Ferdaus is accused of planning to commit acts of violence against the United States “with the goal of terrorizing the United States, decapitating its ‘military center,’ and killing as many [non-believers] as possible.”
Mr. Ferdaus has been specifically charged with 18 U.S.C. sections 844(f) for attempting to damage or destroy a Federal building, section 2155 for attempting to damage and destroy national-defense premises, section 844(d) for being in receipt and possesion of explosive materials, section 2339A for attempting to provide material support to terrorists, and section 2339B for attempting to provide material support to a designated Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO). Mr.Ferdaus was also charged with 26 U.S.C. section 5861 for being in receipt of non-registered firearms.
Mr. Ferdaus thought he was meeting with members of al-Queda when in fact the individuals he was meeting with were undercover federal agents. Mr. Ferdaus revealed to federal agents that he extensively planned and took substantial steps to bomb the United States Pentagon and United States Capitol Building using remote controlled aircraft filled with explosives.
Mr. Ferdaus began designing and constructing detonation components for improvised explosive devices (IEDs) using mobile phones. These modified mobile phones were given to the undercover agents by Mr. Ferdaus who thought they were going to be used to kill U.S. soldiers overseas.
Mr. Ferdaus also requested firearms, ammunition, and explosives from the undercover agents whom he thought were al-Queda operatives. They provided him with C-4 explosives, AK-47 assault rifles and grenades. These items were needed for him to carry out a detailed plan to attack the Capitol and Pentagon with remote control aircraft that he shared with the undercover agents on two USB storage devices. The plans were highly detailed and contained “recon” photos of the proposed attack sites. As soon as Mr. Ferdaus was in receipt of these items he was arrested by federal law enforcement in Massachusetts.
If convicted on all counts, Mr. Ferdaus would face up to 80 years in prison and have any property linked to his criminal conduct subject to forfeiture. Had his conduct caused anyone to actually died, Mr. Ferdaus’ would be facing life in prison or even the death penalty.
What is apparent from this indictment is that the federal government is well prepared to deal with threats against the national security of the United States. With undercover agents and a series of effective criminal statutes, would-be terrorists often face many years in prison before their conduct actually harms anyone. However, investigators must conduct their sting operations carefully to ensure the target cannot utilize an entrapment defense.
Entrapment is a complete defense to a criminal charge on the theory that “government agents may not originate a criminal design, implant in an innocent person’s mind the disposition to commit a criminal act, and then induce commission of the crime so that the Government may prosecute.” Thus there are two elements to the defense: (1) inducment by the government; and (2) the defendant’s lack of predisposition to engage in the criminal conduct. From the facts alleged in Mr. Ferdaus’ indictment, it seems that an entrapment defense would be unsuccessful because he possessed the disposition to engage in criminal conduct. He authored the plans to attack U.S. buildings and soldiers while the government merely “facilitated” his plans by providing the hardware necessary.
The author of this blog is Erich Ferrari, an attorney specializing in Federal Criminal Defense matters. If you have any questions please contact him at 202-280-6370 or firstname.lastname@example.org.