A Cleveland man named Demetrius Nathanial Pitts, who wrote online under the names “Abdur Raheem Rahfeeq” and “Salah ad-Deem Osama Waleed,” was arrested by the FBI on Sunday for planning a truck bombing attack in the name of al-Qaeda on the Fourth of July.
Fox 8 News in Cleveland reports that Pitts came on the FBI’s radar screen in 2017 when he made statements “supporting Al Qaeda and regarding violent intentions against the armed forces while he lived in the Cincinnati area.”
Pitts remained under investigation after moving to Cleveland in May and continuing to make threatening statements. He evidently intended to survive the Fourth of July bombing in Cleveland because according to FBI Special Agent in Charge Stephen Anthony, he told an undercover FBI agent he was planning a subsequent attack in Philadelphia:
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.
Anthony said Pitts used social media to promote al-Qaeda and call for acts of terrorist violence. Among the plans he promoted was giving the children of American soldiers toy cars stuffed with explosives, in the hope of killing or maiming both the children and their parents. He expressed enthusiasm for beheading and dismembering victims as well as using bombs to kill them.
“His Facebook posts were, quite frankly, disturbing. They included words to the effect that ‘we as Muslims need to start training like this every day. We need to know how to shoot guns throw hand grenades and hand-to-hand combat,” said Anthony.
U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Ohio Justin Herdman stated that Anthony spent last week conducting reconnaissance for possible Fourth of July attack sites, including a Cleveland park and the U.S. Coast Guard station.
Pitts, 48, was described by the authorities as a U.S. citizen with “an extensive criminal history, including prior convictions for felonious assault domestic violence and carrying concealed weapons.” It was not clear if he possessed explosive materials or the expertise to use them, but officials said they made the arrest because he was preparing to take some form of terrorist action. In his final meeting with an undercover agent, he said he was ready to strike and had no regrets about the innocent people who would be killed.
“Law enforcement cannot sit back and wait for Mr. Pitts to commit a violent attack. We don’t have the luxury of hoping an individual decides not to harm someone or get others to act, especially when his continued, repeated intentions were to do exactly that,” Anthony explained.
During one of his last contacts with undercover FBI agents, Pitts was tricked into returning a cell phone that was supposedly a gift from his “al-Qaeda brothers.” When the FBI examined the phone, they found Pitts used it to make two video pledges of allegiance to al-Qaeda.
Pitts has been charged with material support for a terrorist organization and could face up to 20 years in prison if convicted.