Demetrius Nathaniel Pitts, aka Abdur Raheem Rafeeq, aka Salah ad-Deen Osama Waleed, 48, was arrested Sunday, July 1, after expressing his desire to launch a large-scale attack during Fourth of July celebrations in Cleveland, according to FBI Special Agent in Charge Stephen Anthony.
Pitts will be charged with one count of an attempt to provide material support to a foreign terrorist organization, in this case, Al Qaeda. The charge carries a maximum sentence of 20 years.
Anthony, U.S. Attorney Justin Herdman and Cleveland Police Chief Calvin Williams spoke during the press conference flanked by other national, regional and local law enforcement officials in announcing the arrest, details about the planned attacks, and the key events in the investigation that led to the arrest.
Pitts has “expressed anti-American sentiments and expressed a desire to recruit people to kill Americans” between 2015 and 2017, according to officials. He had been under investigation since 2017 after making threats on Facebook. Pitts said that Muslims should learn how to shoot guns, throw grenades, and engage in hand-to-hand combat, law enforcement officials said.
According to Anthony, Pitts spoke about attacking public events with bombs and also cutting off hands and heads. He is a US citizen, radicalized in the US, Anthony said.
The investigation started in Cincinnati in 2017 where he lived at the time, and continued in the Northern District of Ohio when Pitts moved to Cleveland in May 2018.
During the press conference on Monday, U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Ohio Justin Herdman described Pitts’ reconnaissance of sites around downtown Cleveland including Voinovich Park and added additional details about his planned attacks.
“He looked for locations to park a van that would be packed with explosives. He talked about taking targets like St. John’s Cathedral off the map. And just yesterday he discussed giving remote controlled cars packed with explosives and shrapnel to the children of our military uniform members,” he said.
In response to a question whether Pitts had access to explosives or the ability to build explosives, Anthony said, “We don't know fully, quite honestly, whether he had all of these abilities. He definitely throughout many conversations and over a long period of time expressed his ability to use, either through the undercover agent or through others, to obtain that.”
Cleveland Police Chief Williams called on the public to remain vigilant and “if you see something, say something.” When asked if the city planned additional security at this week’s Independence day events, he said, security was always heightened during major public events but that "extra, extra" patrols were not being planned.
“You’ll definitely know that we’re out there, and then there are some folks out there that you won’t know are out there,” he added.
FBI details year-long investigation
The following details of the FBI's interactions with Pitts are part of an affidavit in the criminal complaint filed this morning in U.S. District Court:
Pitts said that he wanted to meet an al Qaeda “brother”, and in June, he was connected with an undercover FBI agent.
At a meeting between Pitts and the agent on June 22 in Walton Hills, Ohio, they discussed launching an attack for al Qaeda. Pitts said: “I'm trying to figure out something that would shake them up on the 4th of July. ... What would hit them in the core? Blow up in the, have a bomb to blow up in the 4th of July parade.”
After discussing possible sites, the undercover agent told Pitts the fireworks would be launched from Voinovich Park, and he said, “Oh there you go. Oh yeah." The site also appealed to Pitts due to its proximity to the U.S. Coast Guard Station, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and the Celebreeze Federal Building.
The agent told Pitts that al Qaeda “brothers” would assist him by providing him with a bus pass and a cell phone. On June 25, an FBI "confidential human source" in Maple Heights gave Pitts the pass and the phone, and the next day, Pitts contacted the undercover agent letting him know that he had finished his reconnaissance of downtown Cleveland and the he wanted to “destroy the government.”
Pitts also said that he wanted to help launch an attack in Philadelphia, but that he would only “go look at the base on the ground" but would leave it to other "brothers" to carry out other parts of the attack.
Pitts met with the confidential human source on June 27 and handed over the cell phone with the photos and videos from his reconnaissance. On the phone were two videos in which he pledged allegiance to al Qaeda. He said: “We serve Allah ... We fight our enemies. We destroy them and destroy those who try to oppose ...”
At the meeting, Pitts said he wanted to be present during the Fourth of July attack. “And I'm gonna be downtown when the - when the thing go off. I'm gonna be somewhere cuz I wanna see it go off,” Pitts said.
On Sunday, July 1, he met the undercover agent again to discuss his plan for the attacks in Philadelphia where he proposed that using a truck bomb like the one used in the bombing in Oklahoma City would be the “best way to cause maximum damage,” according to the press release by the FBI.
The undercover agent discussed with him that people would die and the carnage involved in such an attack. Pitts said that he didn't care and that he would have no regrets. He was arrested at the end of the meeting.