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FBI: Ohio al-Qaeda Adherent Planned Fourth of July Attack, Scoped Out Coast Guard Station

An Ohio man who reportedly pledged support to al-Qaeda was arrested for allegedly planning an attack this week, musing to an undercover FBI employee, “What would hit them at their core? …Have a bomb blow up in the Fourth of July parade.”

According to the criminal complaint, Demetrius Nathaniel Pitts, 48, of Maple Heights, Ohio, came to the FBI’s attention in 2015 when, under the Facebook profile Abdur Raheem Rafeeq, he sent a private message to a California political talk show that said, “Fuck America and there arm[ sic] forces. The USA will be destroy. Allahu Akbar.”

On Jan. 25, 2017, using the same account, Pitts commented on pictures believed to be from a jihadist training camp: “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. How survey out in the woods. Look at the bed blue eyed devils. They teach their little dogs on how to shoot and Hunt. If you fear death. Then don’t say you love Islam. The Rasool saw said. We should always be prepared to fight in the name of Allah Akbar. All cowards stay home.”

On June 15 of this year, an undercover FBI employee met with Pitts in Willoughby, Ohio. In the recorded conversations, Pitts dismisses the suggestion of attacking sporting events as “dumb nuts” because “nobody who was of the government” was killed in the Boston Marathon bombing.

“You wanna hit places, hit some of these army bases,” he said.

According to the court document, Pitts also talked about feeding bodies to hogs or alligators. “But if you gonna make an example of the person, you don’t want the body hid. No, no, no, no, no. That’s, that’s no, that’s, that’s defeating the purpose. You kill the person and stick his head right there in front of the military post with his hands right there. That’s what you do. With a burnt flag right there,” he said.

“I can’t wait ’til I get me the right machete cause the first day I, how I’m gonna clean it is cutting a person’s head off,” Pitts also reportedly said. “…We want it to make the news.”

A week later, the two allegedly had a conversation in Walton Hills, Ohio, about launching an al-Qaeda attack in Cleveland for the Fourth of July.

According to the transcript, Pitts said he couldn’t attack Washington, D.C., because “that’s so secure.”

“I’m trying to figure out something that would shake them up on the 4th of July,” he said, according to the FBI transcript. “…You gotta sit up from, from the uh, you gotta wait ’til the parade start where, where it gets into motion. And then once it get to the heart of the city. You blow it up from there and you have blow it up in three sections.” He discussed using a remote control car rigged with explosives and adorned with an American flag, and the two studied a map of downtown and areas near Voinovich Park.

Pitts allegedly told the FBI employee that he would conduct video surveillance of the park and the nearby U.S. Coast Guard station, and would transfer the footage to the al-Qaeda “brothers.” He “also expressed a desire, while downtown Cleveland, to take a U.S. Coast Guard tour and gain as much information as he could about the layout of the facility,” and also said he wanted to conduct reconnaissance in his hometown Philadelphia. He later requested financial reimbursement from al-Qaeda for the footwork — “you tell the Brothers and them now I am gonna need a little finance for that day.”

On June 27, Pitts and the undercover agent met in Maple Heights, then drove to downtown Cleveland. “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 of the planned July Fourth bombing. Pitts gave a confidential source a phone that contained two videos in which, the FBI said, he pledged allegiance: “We serve Allah . . . We fight our enemies.  We destroy them and destroy those who try to oppose.”

The phone also had four videos taken by Pitts that show him walking down East 9th Street in Cleveland, pointing out potential targets such as the federal building, the Coast Guard station and St. John’s Cathedral, which he said could be taken “off the map.”

Meeting with the FBI employee on Sunday, Pitts discussed using a truck bomb in Philadelphia similar to the Oklahoma City bombing. He was arrested that day by members of the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force.

Charged with attempting to provide material support to al-Qaeda, Pitts faces up to 20 years in prison.

“Together with our law enforcement partners on FBI Cleveland’s Joint Terrorism Task Force, the FBI disrupted plans to attack innocent citizens – including on July 4th, a day our citizens should be able to celebrate our freedom without fear of violence,” said FBI Director Christopher Wray. “This arrest shows the determination of the men and women of the FBI and our partner agencies to protect our communities from harm. I extend my thanks not just to those who worked on this case, but to all those who safeguard our nation every day.”

Bridget Johnson
Bridget Johnson is the Managing Editor for Homeland Security Today. A veteran journalist whose news articles and analyses have run in dozens of news outlets across the globe, Bridget first came to Washington to be online editor and a foreign policy writer at The Hill. Previously she was an editorial board member at the Rocky Mountain News and syndicated nation/world news columnist at the Los Angeles Daily News. Bridget is a terrorism analyst and security consultant with a specialty in online open-source extremist propaganda, incitement, recruitment, and training. She hosts and presents in Homeland Security Today law enforcement training webinars studying a range of counterterrorism topics including conspiracy theory extremism, complex coordinated attacks, critical infrastructure attacks, arson terrorism, drone and venue threats, antisemitism and white supremacists, anti-government extremism, and WMD threats. She is a Senior Risk Analyst for Gate 15 and a private investigator. Bridget is an NPR on-air contributor and has contributed to USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, New York Observer, National Review Online, Politico, New York Daily News, The Jerusalem Post, The Hill, Washington Times, RealClearWorld and more, and has myriad television and radio credits including Al-Jazeera, BBC and SiriusXM.

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