CLEVELAND, Ohio — A man who repeatedly said he wanted to be part of a foreign terrorist organization conducted reconnaissance in downtown Cleveland in recent days, planning to pack a van with explosives in a July 4 attack.
Demetrius Nathanial Pitts, also known as Abdur Raheem Rahfeeq, was arrested yesterday after a months-long investigation prompted by statements made on social media.
He faces a charge of attempted material support of a foreign terrorist organization and will appear in court Monday.
FBI Special Agent in Charge Stephen Anthony said the FBI originally in 2017 learned of statements Pitts made supporting Al Qaeda and regarding violent intentions against the armed forces while he lived in the Cincinnati area.
Pitts moved to Cleveland in May, and authorities continued investigating his claims.
Anthony said just last week, Pitts met with an undercover agent and made statements similar to “what would hit them in their core? Blow up at the Fourth of July parade.”
Anthony said Pitts then surveilled landmarks including the U.S. Coast Guard station and Voinovich Park downtown.
He continued to voice his hatred for the military, wanting to “chop off heads and hands.” At a final meeting Sunday, Pitts is accused of having another conversation with an undercover agent in which he indicated his desire to participate in a terrorist attack on July 4 in Cleveland, Ohio.
He also wanted to conduct an attack in the future in Philadelphia, said Anthony.
U.S. Attorney Justin Herdman said during his conversations with undercover agents, Pitts said he planned to use a van packed with explosives, wanting to target people watching fireworks and the downtown parade.
Pitts was arrested Sunday.
Authorities say he is a United States citizen. It’s not clear if he had access to explosives or if he has a history of using them. He does have an extensive criminal history.
Cleveland Mayor Frank G. Jackson made the following statement regarding the efforts to prevent a July 4 attack:
“I want to thank the FBI and all the members of the Joint Terrorism Task Force – men and women whose primary goal is to make Northeast Ohio safe,” said Mayor Frank G. Jackson. “These Law Enforcement Partners continue to secure us against those who seek to disrupt our way of life through violence and the threat of terrorist acts.”