Adam Ferrise and Evan MacDonald, Cleveland.com, July 2, 2018
A Maple Heights man plotted to set off a bomb at the Fourth of July fireworks celebration in downtown Cleveland in an attempt to “strike at the values at the very core of our nation,” authorities said.
Demetrius N. Pitts, 48, expressed a desire to join al Qaeda and kill U.S. citizens — including military personnel and their families — as he told the undercover agent of his plot to conduct a July 4 attack on Voinovich Park, where the fireworks are set off each year, authorities said Monday during a news conference announcing Pitts’ arrest.
“Just last week, this defendant was walking around downtown Cleveland conducting reconnaissance on what he believed was a large-scale attack,” U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Ohio Justin Herdman said. “He looked for a place to park a van full of explosives.”
Pitts is charged with one count of attempting to provide material support to al Qaeda, a designated foreign terrorist organization, authorities said during a news conference at the FBI office in downtown Cleveland.
Pitts is a U.S. citizen and Philadelphia native, but he became radicalized and is also known by the names Abdur Raheem Rafeeq and Salah ad-Deem Osama Waleed, authorities said.
An affidavit filed in the case says Pitt expressed anti-American sentiment between 2015 and 2017. In 2018 he was introduced to an undercover FBI agent who he believed to be an al Qaeda “brother,” the affidavit says.
Pitts met the undercover agent June 22 in Walton Hills. During the meeting he told the undercover agent of his desire to conduct a terrorist attack during the Fourth of July celebration in downtown Cleveland, authorities said.
“What would hit them at their core?” Pitts told the undercover agent, according to the affidavit. “Blow up in the, have a bomb blow up the Fourth of July parade.”
Pitts planned to conduct the attack at Voinovich Park, the affidavit says. He was also pleased the location is near the U.S. Coast Guard station and the Anthony J. Celebrezze Federal Building, the affidavit says.
The undercover agent texted Pitts on June 22 and indicated al Qaeda “brothers” would provide him a bus pass and a cellphone. A confidential source then met Pitts on July 25 in Maple Heights and gave him the items, authorities said.
Pitts texted the undercover agent the following day to say he’d completed his reconnaissance, and that he wanted to “destroy the government,” the affidavit says. He subsequently met with the confidential source to the return the cellphone, so its content could be given to al Qaeda “brothers,” the affidavit says.
The phone also contained two videos in which Pitts pledged allegiance to al-Qaeda, the affidavit says.
Pitts met the undercover agent for a final time on Sunday. He explained his plan to travel back to his hometown of Philadelphia, so he could conduct reconnaissance for a future attack there, the affidavit says.
The undercover agent reminded Pitts that people would die in a potential terrorist attack, but Pitts responded by saying he did not care and had no regrets, the affidavit says.
Pitts has an extensive criminal history, including prior convictions for felonious assault, domestic violence and carrying concealed weapons, Anthony said.