A federal judge last week sentenced Rezwan Ferdaus, a 2008 Northeastern graduate, to 17 years in prison for planning a terrorist attack on buildings in Washington, D.C.
Ferdaus, of Ashland, worked with undercover FBI agents who he thought were al-Qaeda recruiters for much of 2011, plotting to fly remote-controlled aircraft, packed with plastic explosives, into the US Capitol and Pentagon. Ferdaus then planned to shoot at workers with automatic weapons as they ran from the building following the explosions. He began planning his attack in 2010, about two years after he received a bachelor’s degree in physics from Northeastern. On Sept. 28, 2011, he was arrested.
That day, journalists from across Massachusetts swarmed the Ferdaus family home. There was a message on his parents’ answering machine, threatening their lives. Showket and Anamaria Ferdaus described the trying days after their son’s arrest in a letter to federal Judge Richard Stearns before Ferdaus’s sentencing. Their note, along with several other letters supporting Ferdaus, are now available in federal court documents.
Two days after their son’s arrest, Showket and Anamaria wrote that they were finally able to see Rezwan, through a video setup, shackled and wearing a yellow jumpsuit. They cried.
In their letter, Showket and Anamaria asked for Stearns’s sympathy in sentencing Rezwan. They remembered their son not as the terrorism suspect who pleaded guilty to multiple charges in July and had delighted in hearing that his cell phone detonation devices killed American soldiers in Afghanistan, but as “Rez,” the compassionate young boy with warm brown eyes. They recalled the senior quote they said Rezwan used in his high school yearbook, from Gandhi: “I offer you peace. I offer you love. I offer you friendship. I see your beauty. I hear your need.”
Rezwan, Showket and Anamaria said, grew up in a multicultural home. Showket is a Muslim who emigrated from Bangladesh, and Anamaria is a Catholic, born in Cape Verde and raised in Angola.
The two said they met at Northeastern in 1979, he a student at the school, and she an attendee of Boston State College.
They described how Rezwan, their youngest son, thrived in high school, enrolling in Advanced Placement courses, playing soccer and joining bands. He moved onto Northeastern as a scholarship student. In college, Showket and Anamaria wrote, Rezwan continued to succeed and helped found Goosepimp Orchestra, a band with Latin roots.
Cassie, who identified herself as a friend of Ferdaus from Northeastern in a letter to Stearns, said he was caring and happy in his first years at school.
“I studied in the library with Rez, attended some of his band’s music shows, and just hung out individually or with friends,” she wrote. “I have always known Rez to be a friendly and peaceful person. When groups of us would hang out together, Rez was always exceptionally nice and friendly to everyone, often going out of his way just to make sure people felt included and were having fun.”
But then, shortly before graduation, Rezwan’s parents said “he fell into depression.”
Cassie too recounted how her friend became withdrawn.
“I noticed a change in Rez towards the very end of college when Rez became more quiet, introverted and recognizably depressed,” she wrote. “I wasn’t the only person who noticed it. Some of his closest and oldest friends also noticed a change as well. Rez became very distant, often times [he] would be the quietest person in a room. He seemed to always be sad.”
Showket and Anamaria described for Stearns how relatives told Rezwan he should see a doctor, but he became irritated.
“He told us that he did not believe in doctors and hospitals,” Showket and Anamaria wrote of their son.
Years later, in his cell, Rezwan seems happy again, his parents wrote. His relatives visit weekly, and sometimes old friends too.
“They talk about the olden days, sports, and current affairs, which interest young minds,” Showket and Anamaria wrote. “Rezwan laughs with his friends and cousins. His big brown eyes are dancing again, just like the way they were.”
The Ferdaus family, through Rezwan’s trial and imprisonment, have stood by him. His older brother, Farhad Ferdaus, wrote a letter to Stearns describing the difficulty of the separation.
“My brother is not just a family member of mine, he is a part of me. We have the same blood flowing in our veins and that will never change,” Farhad wrote in his letter. “I hope that this letter will address that Rezwan is not a ‘Terrorist,’ but a brother, son, grandson, nephew, cousin and my best friend.”