CLEVELAND, Ohio – A Cleveland man was arrested after allegedly making plans for a terrorist attack on the city’s downtown July 4th parade with an undercover agent, authorities said Monday morning.
Demetrius Nathaniel Pitts, who used the name Abdur Raheem Rafeeq on Facebook, was taken into custody Sunday and has been charged with attempting to provide material support to a foreign terrorist organization, Stephen Anthony of the FBI said in a news conference.
Pitts came under FBI surveillance in 2017 after he went on social media to express a hatred of the United States and a desire to join the terrorist group al Qaeda, Anthony said. Pitts is a US citizen and was radicalized in the United States, Anthony said. Court records say he’s 48.
Pitts met an undercover agent in June, said an affidavit provided by the FBI, and the two began discussing his desire to join al Qaeda and potential acts of terror.
“What would hit them in the core?” Pitts asked in a secretly recorded conversation on June 22, according to the affidavit. “Blow up in the, have a bomb to blow up at the 4th of July parade.”
Pitts told the agent he would conduct surveillance in downtown Cleveland and later gave the agent a phone with photos and videos of potential bomb targets, such as Voinovich Park and the US Coast Guard Station, according to the affidavit.
At first, the agent and Pitts talked about placing bombs inside small remote-controlled cars, but in a July 27 conversation Pitts said they should also detonate an explosives-laden vehicle, the affidavit said.
“Yeah, like a full van,” Pitts said, according to the affidavit. “Why — why play wit’ ’em.”
Pitts told the agent he didn’t want to be involved in carrying out the attack, just doing reconnaissance, the affidavit said.
“The only thing I’m gonna be responsible for is going to look at the spot, to scope out the scenery,” he said, according to the affidavit.
Later in the day on June 27, Pitts texted the agent and said the attack should be delayed because of tight security in downtown Cleveland.
“Cancel the party for now,” his text said, according to the affidavit.
But the agent kept talking to him and on June 30 told Pitts the higher-ups in al Qaeda were pleased with his plans and that the bombing in Cleveland was “a go,” the affidavit said.
The agent met with Pitts on July 1 to discuss Pitts’ plan for a bombing in Philadelphia, the affidavit said. When reminded that people would die in a bombing, Pitts said, “I don’t care,” the affidavit said.
The agent also showed Pitts the remote controlled cars and Pitts suggested they be given to the children of military personnel so they could unwittingly detonate the bombs at the parade or take them home and blow up their own houses, the affidavit said.
“The meeting ended with the arrest of Pitts,” the affidavit said.
The FBI said Pitts also gave them two videos recorded on a phone in which he proclaimed loyalty to al Qaeda, the affidavit said.
He was scheduled to appear in court Monday afternoon. CNN is trying to reach his lawyer. The maximum sentence if convicted of the charge is 20 years, the affidavit said.
Justin E. Herdman, the US attorney for the northern district of Ohio, said Pitts had tried to strike fear into Americans. He urged people “to continue to have your barbecues and continue to go see fireworks.”