FBI Arrests Man Planning July 4th Terror Attack in Cleveland

A 48-year-old man was arrested by the FBI in Cleveland after the agency said he was planning a July 4 attack in the city's downtown.

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(Photo: WCPO)

Demetrius Nathaniel Pitts, aka Raheem Rafeeq and Salahadeen Osama Waleed, was taken into custody on Sunday, according to Steve Anthony, special agent in charge, Cleveland.com reports.

Pitts, who lives in Maple Heights, a suburb southeast of Cleveland, has been charged with attempting to provide material support to al Qaeda, said Mike Tobin, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's Office in Cleveland.

During a Friday morning press conference, Anthony said that from 2015 to 2017, Pitts expressed a desire to join a terrorist organization and recruit people to kill Americans.

Tobin said that the FBI in Cincinnati was first tipped off to Pitts because of postings he made online while living in southern Ohio. In May, he relocated to the Cleveland area where the local FBI office picked up the investigation.

Last week, Pitts told an undercover FBI agent that he planned to launch a terrorist attack on July 4 at Voinovich Park, where fireworks are launched, according to Cleveland.com.

U.S. Attorney Justin Herdman said Pitts, a U.S. citizen from Philadelphia who was "radicalized in the United States" and has an extensive criminal history, faces a maximum of 20 years in prison. He will appear in federal court on Monday.

"Just last week, this individual was walking around downtown Cleveland, taking reconnaissance for what he thought was a large scale attack on the Fourth of July," Herdman said, adding that Pitts planned on finding a place to park a van filled with explosives. He said that the man wanted to attack a parade or "something downtown on July 4 where there would be lots of people," and he had talked of a similar plot in Philadelphia.

Tobin said that Pitts seemed to view himself as a scouting agent who would not detonate the bombs himself, but rather find the location that would do maximum damage.

Anthony declined to say if Pitts had access to or could have built explosives, but said he expressed intent and desire.

Pitts "wanted us to be afraid," Herman said, urging Cleveland residents to celebrate the Fourth of July without fear. He said Pitts "wanted to strike at the values that are at the very core of our nation."

Authorities said the Cleveland Police department will have extra officers working on the Fourth as part of its standard plan for holiday celebrations and big events — although there won't necessarily be more officers on duty than during a typical Fourth of July celebration.

Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson issued a statement concerning Pitts' arrest: "I want to thank the FBI and all the members of the Joint Terrorism Task Force -- men and women whose primary goal is to make Northeast Ohio safe. These law enforcement partners continue to secure us against those who seek to disrupt our way of life through violence and the threat of terrorist acts."

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CNBC reports that U.S. law enforcement officials said they had arrested more than 10 people inspired by the Islamic State militant group ahead of the Fourth of July in 2015.