Officials with the FBI’s Cincinnati field office launched an investigation into Pitts in 2017, Stephen Anthony, the special-agent-in-charge of the FBI’s Cincinnati office, said Monday at a news conference.
Court documents show Pitts threatened violence against the U.S. on his social media account, commenting on photos believed to be from a jihad training camp and expressing a desire to recruit people to kill Americans who were against Muslims.
Pitts spoke with an undercover FBI agent, who was posing as a member of al-Qaida, about his hatred for the military and law enforcement agents and his desire to “chop off hands and heads,” Anthony said.
In a meeting between the pair recorded on June 22, Pitts talked about launching an attack for al-Qaida in Cleveland on the Fourth of July, during the parade or fireworks at Voinovich Park, near a U.S. Coast Guard Station and the Celebreeze Federal Building.
“What would hit them in the core?” Pitts asked the undercover agent, according to court records. “Have a bomb to blow up at the 4th of July parade.”
Pitts agreed to conduct surveillance to determine the best place to put explosives in downtown Cleveland. U.S. Attorney Justin Herdman said Pitts was looking for places where he could park a van that he planned to pack with explosives.
Update 10 a.m. EDT July 2: Authorities identified the man arrested Sunday on suspicion of attempting to support a terrorist organization as Demetrius Pitts, also known Abdur Raheem Rahfeeq.
Pitts first came under scrutiny in 2017, after he made “disturbing” posts on Facebook in support of the Muslim militant group al-Qaida, said Stephen Anthony, the special agent-in-charge of the FBI Cleveland office.
At a news conference Monday, officials said Pitts did "reconnaissance" of downtown Cleveland as recently as last week. U.S. Attorney Justin Herdman said Pitts was looking for places where he could park a van that he planned to pack with explosives.
“He talked about taking targets like St. John’s Cathedral off the map,” Herdman said. “(Pitts) wanted to strike at the values that are at the very core of our nation. He wanted us to be afraid to speak our minds. He also wanted us to be scared to gather in public places.”
Authorities said Pitts spoke with an undercover FBI agent about his hatred for the military and law enforcement agents and his desire “to chop off hands and heads,” Anthony said.
“His intent was to be part of what they (al-Qaida) do, part of the organization,” he said. “That was his stated desire to be part of a foreign terrorist organization.”
Anthony said Pitts is an American citizen who was radicalized in the U.S. Pitts has an extensive criminal history that includes arrests on charges of assault, domestic violence and carrying a concealed weapon, among others.
Update 9:12 a.m. EDT July 2: FBI Agent Vicki Anderson told The Associated Press that the arrest happened over the weekend.
Authorities are expected to provide more information on the arrest at a news conference scheduled to start at 9:15 a.m.
Update 7:01 a.m. EDT July 2: According to news release from the FBI's Cleveland Division, the suspect, whose name has not been released, is "being charged with attempted material support of a foreign terrorist organization."
Officials will reveal more details at a 9:15 a.m. EDT press conference.
The Dayton Daily News contributed to this report.