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.
Quite possibly another jailhouse convert. More: Man arrested for plotting terrorist attack in downtown Cleveland on July Fourth
On Jan. 25, 2017, FBI agents were informed of Pitts’ Facebook profile Abdur Raheem Rafeeq after he commented on pictures believed to be from a jihad training camp, according to the affidavit.
He posted comments such as: “We as Muslim need to start. Training like this everyday. We need to known how to shoot guns. Throw hand grenades hand to hand combat.”
Over the course of the year, he expressed a desire to target military members. On June 22, 2018, Pitts met with an undercover FBI agent, and he talked about carrying out an attack on the Fourth of July in downtown Cleveland.
Pitts Googled a map of downtown Cleveland with the undercover agent to see where an explosive device would have the most “impact,” according to the affidavit.
In text messages following the meeting, Pitts told the undercover agent that he would travel to downtown Cleveland to take photographs and video of Voinovich Park and the U.S. Coast Guard Station. He said that the footage would be transferred to the Al-Qaeda “brothers,” the affidavit said.
Pitts claimed he “would take targets such as St. John’s Cathedral off the map,” according to the affidavit. On Sunday, he discussed giving remote control cars packed with explosives and shrapnel to the children of military uniform members, according to Justin E. Herdman, the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Ohio.
Pitts said he wanted to park a van packed with explosives in downtown Cleveland, Herdman said.
Pitts is set to appear before a U.S. magistrate on one charge of attempting to provide material support to the terrorist organization known as Al-Qaeda, a charge that carries a sentence of 20 years in prison.
To read the entire 30-page complaint against Pitts, click here (pdf).