WORCESTER - With a large group of family and friends on hand to offer support, an Ashland man pleaded not guilty yesterday in federal court to charges that he plotted to blow up the Capitol and Pentagon with remote-controlled airplanes laden with explosives.
Sitting stoically in tan prison scrubs, with downcast eyes, Rezwan Ferdaus, 26, quietly repeated “not guilty’’ as Magistrate Judge Timothy S. Hillman detailed the six counts against the Northeastern University graduate.
Ferdaus’s demeanor contrasted with the shoulder-shrugging sobs of relatives and friends who filled the gallery behind the suspect.
His mother sat through the 30-minute proceeding with tears streaming from her eyes and a white tissue pressed to her face. Ferdaus made eye contact with his supporters as he was being escorted out of the courtroom in shackles. They stood, waved and shouted, “We love you’’ and “Hang in there,’’ sentiments also voiced as he was led into the chamber.
The hearing was Ferdaus’s first public appearance since his arrest Wednesday. When it ended, his mother had to be helped from the courtroom by relatives. Ferdaus lived in Ashland, a suburb west of Boston, with his parents and younger brother.
His family declined to comment outside the courthouse, though a relative shouted at the gaggle of reporters following them into the parking garage that the family wanted to be left alone.
Also in attendance were the parents of Tarek Mehanna, a Sudbury resident awaiting trial in a separate case on charges that he conspired to provide material support to terrorists. They said they did not know Ferdaus’s family, but came to show their support.
Ferdaus’s attorney, public defender Catherine K. Byrne, said: “This case was orchestrated and fabricated by the government.’’
Byrne asked the court to postpone a detention hearing for Ferdaus until Oct. 20, which is not an uncommon request in such cases. “The charges are very serious . . . and we need time to prepare,’’ she told Hillman, who granted the delay.
Prosecutors, former classmates, and religious leaders describe Ferdaus as someone who went from playing the drums, quoting Gandhi, and promoting peace to decrying conversations between men and women, criticizing interfaith efforts, and calling for the death of any “kafir,’’ an Arabic term for nonbeliever.
Earlier this year, authorities said, Ferdaus started talking to an informant about his plans to “terrorize’’ the United States by attacking the nation’s capital.
FBI agents posing as Al Qaeda recruiters and the office of US Attorney Carmen M. Ortiz then launched an undercover investigation that lasted at least nine months, resulting in the accusation that Ferdaus modified a dozen cellphones into control switches for improvised explosive devices that would be used to kill American military personnel.
According to federal court records, Ferdaus also planned to launch three remote-controlled planes, each about 5 feet long and filled with explosives, into federal buildings in the Washington area. A six-man team would then shoot anyone fleeing from the buildings, prosecutors allege.
“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.
The undercover agents supplied Ferdaus with the money to buy the planes, the explosives, three grenades, and six AK-47 assault rifles.
He was arrested after he locked the explosives and guns in a Framingham storage facility he had rented, authorities said.
The charges against Ferdaus include 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.
If convicted on all counts, Ferdaus, a US citizen with a degree in physics, faces up to 100 years in prison and more than $1.5 million in fines.Material from the Associated Press was used included in this report. Johnson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org; Ellement at email@example.com.