Maple Heights man pleads guilty to plotting Fourth of July terror attack in Cleveland to support al Qaeda

Maple Heights man pleads guilty to plotting Fourth of July terror attack in Cleveland to support al Qaeda
Demetrius Nathaniel Pitts

CLEVELAND, Ohio (WOIO) - The Maple Heights man who said he wanted to “kill Americans” and wouldn’t lose any sleep about it plead guilty on Tuesday to the crimes related to his plot to launch a terrorist attack in Cleveland on Independence Day, according to a release from the Department of Justice.

The Department of Justice said 50-year-old Demetrius Nathaniel Pitts, also known as Abdur Raheem Rafeeq and Salah ad-Deen Osama Waleed, plead guilty to “attempting to provide material support to a foreign terrorist organization, threats against the President of the United States and threats against family members of the President of the United States.”

Pitts’ sentencing is scheduled for Feb. 11, 2020.

According to the Department of Justice, Pitts may face 14 years in prison followed by a lifetime of supervised release under the terms of his guilty plea.

Pitts has been in custody since July.

U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Ohio Justin Herman said, “This defendant admitted to plotting an attack on families and children in downtown Cleveland on Independence Day, as well as making threats against the President and his family. He planned to inflict pain and terror on the day we celebrate our nation’s most cherished freedoms. We remain committed to protecting our nation from people who adhere to ideologies that promulgate violence.”

“Pitts has acknowledged his desire and plan to commit a terrorist attack supporting al-Qaeda in Cleveland during the July 4th parade, the very day innocent citizens would be celebrating the freedoms we have in this country. The FBI thanks the public for reporting individuals espousing their radical beliefs that threaten our way of life. Law enforcement reminds the public, if you see something, say something, we must interrupt plans for violent attacks before they occur," FBI Special Agent in Charge Eric B. Smith said.

According to an affidavit filed in the case, between 2015 and 2017, Pitts expressed anti-American Sentiments, a desire to recruit people to kill Americans, and a desire to meet with an Al Qaeda “brother.”

In June, Pitts was introduced to an FBI employee acting undercover who Pitts believed was such a “brother," according to the affidavit.

Pitts and the undercover employee met in Walton Hills, Ohio, where they discussed launching an attack during the July Fourth holiday.

According to the Department of Justice, Pitts said “I’m trying to figure out something that would shake them up on the 4th of July... What would hit them at their core? Blow up in the, have a bomb blow up in the 4th of July parade."

Looking at a map of downtown Cleveland and learning the fireworks would be launched from Voinovich Park, Pitts said, “Oh there you go. Oh yeah," according to the Department of Justice.

The Department of Justice said Pitts was also pleased the park was near the U.S. Coast Guard station, the Army Corps of Engineers, and the Celebrezze Federal Building.

Pitts ended his meeting with the undercover employee indicating he would travel to downtown Cleveland soon to take photos and videotape of Voinovich Park and the U.S. Coast Guard, as well as take a tour of the U.S. Coast Guard station to gain as much information as he could about the layout of the facility, according to the Department of Justice.

The Department of Justice provided the following timeline of events after that initial meeting:

  • On June 25, Pitts met with an FBI confidential human source (CHS) in Maple Heights, Ohio, to retrieve items used to conduct surveillance for the July 4th attack.
  • On June 26, Pitts contacted the UCE (undercover employee) via text message and relayed that he had completed the reconnaissance of the designated spots in downtown Cleveland and that he desired to “destroy the government.” Pitts also indicated he intended to travel to Philadelphia, since Philadelphia is his hometown and he knows it best. Pitts indicated it was his “job” to “go look at the base of the ground” and that it was up to other “brothers” to complete other parts of the job.
  • On June 27, Pitts met with the CHS and turned over the phone that contained the reconnaissance photos and videos, so they could be provided to the al Qaeda brothers.
  • Later on June 27, Pitts and the UCE met in Maple Heights then drove to downtown Cleveland, where they discussed the impending July 4th bombing. “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.
    • A search of the phone that Pitts provided to the CHS revealed that he made two videos in which he pledged allegiance. He stated, in part: “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.”
  • On July 1, Pitts met with the UCE in Garfield Heights, Ohio, for Pitts to explain his plan for Philadelphia. Pitts said he planned to travel there to conduct reconnaissance for a future attack in Philadelphia. Pitts stated a truck bomb packed with explosives, such as the one used in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, would be the best way to cause maximum damage.

The Department of Justice said the UCE reminded Pitts that people would die and body parts would be flying around, but he responded with “I don’t care” and that he had “no regrets,” would be able to “go to sleep” and not care.

According to the Department of Justice, Pitts also plead guilty on Tuesday to “threatening to kill the President of the United States and his immediate family members, namely his daughter and son-in-law.”

The U.S. Attorney’s Office said the charges were filed against Pitts after he threatened to kidnap President Trump, specifically saying he would cut off his head and hands.

“A better way to get, to get him is to kill his kids. Kill his daughter, son-in-law. Kill ‘em all. He (the President) come out ‘cause you start killing his kids, chop their heads off…you send his kids back,” Pitts said, according to the federal indictment.

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