Cleveland, OH – A man’s alleged plan to kill families, veterans, and law enforcement officers during Fourth of July celebrations in downtown Cleveland was thwarted by local and federal investigators on Sunday.
Demetrius Nathaniel Pitts, also known as Abdur Raheem Rahfeeq has been federally charged for attempted material support of a foreign terrorist organization, U.S. Attorney Justin Herdman announced during a Monday morning press conference.
Investigators first began monitoring Pitts in 2017, after they learned that he had been encouraging acts of terrorism in support of Al-Qaeda, and promoting violence in an array of social media posts going back to 2015, Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Special Agent in Charge Stephen Anthony said.
Pitts expressed his desire to join a “terrorist organization,” and sought to recruit people willing to kill Americans, Agent Anthony explained.
According to FBI investigators, Pitts said he wanted to give explosive remote-controlled toy vehicles to the children of military families, with the hopes that the children would hurt their parents, WOIO reported.
Pitts relocated to Cleveland in May, and began conducting surveillance “all over” downtown Cleveland sites, including Voinovich Park and the U.S. Coast Guard station, Agent Anthony said.
“I did tell myself that their holiday is coming up,” Pitts allegedly told an undercover FBI agent last week. “The Fourth of July. Independence Day. What would hit them in the core? Blow up. Have a bomb. Blow up at the Fourth of July parade.”
"Just last week, this defendant was walking around downtown Cleveland conducting reconnaissance on what he thought was a large-scale attack planned for the Fourth of July," Herdman said. "He looked for locations to park a van that would be packed with explosives."
Investigators said that Pitts also made statements about “wanting to chop off heads and hands,” and had discussed “disposing of bodies,” Agent Anthony explained.
Pitts specifically wanted to kill military personnel, and federal and local law enforcement, investigators said.
“[He] wanted to strike at the values that are at the very core of our nation,” Herdman said. “[He] wanted us to be afraid to speak our minds, and to gather in public places.”
Last week, Pitts met with an undercover FBI agent once again and told him that he planned to launch a terrorist attack during the Fourth of July festivities, and “repeatedly expressed his desire to join and be a part of a foreign terrorist organization,” Agent Anthony said.
He also expressed his desire to “commit a future attack at a date to be determined in Philadelphia” where he once resided, Anthony added.
He was taken into custody on Sunday at approximately 10 a.m., at the conclusion of his meeting with the undercover agent.
Pitts is a U.S. citizen, who was “radicalized” within the United States, Agent Anthony said.
Investigators “did not have any information” that he had traveled outside of the country, he added.
Officials declined to say whether Pitts had access to or knowledge of explosives, and said they could not say whether he had communicated with known Al-Qaeda members.
Pitts’ criminal history included charges of domestic violence, aggravated robbery, carrying a concealed weapon, and felonious assault, Agent Anthony said.
Cleveland Police Chief Calvin Williams noted that the department would remain on alert for potential dangers during the Fourth of July celebrations and that additional officers would be assigned to large events as per the agency’s standard security plan.
“We need to make sure we stay vigilant,” Chief Williams said. “If you see something, definitely say something.”
Pitts is scheduled to appear before the U.S. Magistrate on Monday afternoon, Agent Anthony said.
If convicted, he faces a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison, according to Herdman.