Rezwan Ferdaus, 27, of Ashland, pleaded guilty in July to attempting to provide material support to terrorists and attempting to damage and destroy federal buildings with an explosive. As part of a plea agreement between prosecutors and Ferdaus’ attorney, both sides agreed to recommend the 17-year sentence.
Ferdaus, a Muslim-American who grew up in Massachusetts and has a physics degree from Northeastern University, delivered a long, soft-spoken statement in which he offered no apology for his actions but thanked his family and friends for supporting him. He said he has accepted his fate and "can dream of a brighter future."
Ferdaus did not make any direct anti-American statements, but he did refer to "a world filled with injustices."
"Who other than God knows best what it takes to make a good human being," he said.
Ferdaus was arrested last year after federal employees posing as members of al-Qaida delivered materials he requested, including grenades, machine guns and plastic explosives. Authorities have said the public was never in danger because the explosives were always under the control of federal agents.
Prosecutors have said Ferdaus began planning a holy war against the United States in 2010 after becoming convinced by seeing jihadi websites and videos that said America is evil.
Prosecutors say he approached a government informant at a mosque in December 2010 and later met with undercover agents to discuss a plot. Prosecutors said Ferdaus also wanted to kill U.S. soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan using improvised explosive devices detonated by modified cellphones.
Counterterrorism experts and model-aircraft enthusiasts have said it would be nearly impossible to inflict large-scale damage using model planes.
The defense had suggested that the FBI ignored signs of mental illness in Ferdaus while investigating him. During a bail hearing last year, an FBI agent acknowledged that Ferdaus told undercover agents that he was anxious and depressed and having "intrusive thoughts" in the months before his arrest.
After he was sentenced, his lawyer, Miriam Conrad, said Ferdaus was being treated by a psychiatrist for depression and anxiety in August 2011, a month before his arrest.
U.S. District Judge Richard Stearns said he had received a series of letters from Ferdaus’ family and friends that painted a portrait of a "much loved" man who had lived "90 percent" of his life in a positive way.
"Everyone noticed that there was a point when Mr. Ferdaus’ life turned darker," Stearns said.
In a letter to Stearns, Ferdaus’ parents, Showket and Anamaria Ferdaus, said he slipped into a depression during his senior year at Northeastern, which led to mental illness that was "obviously visible" to his family since late 2009. They said they tried to get him to see a doctor but he would not.
"We took a very cautious approach. After all, he was over 18 and we could not force him to see a doctor. That is the American way. We felt helpless," they wrote in their letter.
After the hearing, Ferdaus’ mother was mobbed by television cameras. "My son is innocent," she cried. "Go investigate your government."
Ferdaus will receive credit for the 13 months he spent in prison while awaiting trial. The U.S. Bureau of Prisons will decide where Ferdaus serves his sentence.
As he left the courtroom in handcuffs, his family stood and shouted, "We love you, Rezwan!" “Stay strong, Rez!" and "See you on the other side!"