The FBI has apparently thwarted a planned terror attack for Fourth of July celebrations in downtown Cleveland.
Authorities report that 48-year-old Demetrius N. Pitts of Maple Heights had plotted to set off an explosion in the downtown area of Cleveland during the city’s fireworks presentation in order to “strike at the values at the very core of our nation” .
Demetrius N. Pitts, 48, expressed a desire to join al Qaeda and kill U.S. citizens — including military personnel and their families — as he told the undercover agent of his plot to conduct a July 4 attack on Voinovich Park, where the fireworks are set off each year, authorities said Monday during a news conference announcing Pitts’ arrest.
“Just last week, this defendant was walking around downtown Cleveland conducting reconnaissance on what he believed was a large-scale attack,” U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Ohio Justin Herdman said. “He looked for a place to park a van full of explosives.”
Pitts is charged with one count of attempting to provide material support to al Qaeda, a designated foreign terrorist organization, authorities said during a news conference at the FBI office in downtown Cleveland.
The FBI says Pitts has been on their radar since 2015.
Court documents say the FBI began paying attention to Pitts in 2015 when he sent a disturbing message to a local TV news program with a Facebook account registered under his alias, Abdur Raheem Rahfeeq.
After more alarming Facebook comments in 2017, the FBI took a closer look and determined that Pitts was interested in joining al Qaeda, training overseas and returning to the U.S. to stage an attack, the complaint said.
An undercover FBI employee met with Pitts and began recording their conversations, in which he fantasized about beheading President Donald Trump, attacking U.S. soldiers, and sowing terror in Cleveland on Independence Day.“I’m trying to figure out something that would shake them up on the 4th of July,” he said in one recording.
An FBI informant provided Pitts with a bus pass so he could get to downtown Cleveland to take photos of bombing targets. He allegedly pledged allegiance to terrorist leaders in videos made with a cellphone — which was also provided by the FBI. His passcode for the phone wasn’t exactly a stumper: 0704, the date of the supposed attack.
Pitts allegedly also said he was interested in doing reconnaissance in Philadelphia, where he had lived. “Pitts indicated it was his ‘job’ to ‘go look at the base of the ground,’ and that it was up to other ‘brothers’ to complete the other parts of the job,” the complaint said.