Ohio man sentenced to 14 years for plotting attack on Cleveland’s July 4th parade in an effort to support al Qaeda
Demetrius Nathaniel Pitts, aka Abdur Raheem Rafeeq, aka Salah ad-Deen Osama Waleed, 50 of Maple Heights, Ohio, was sentenced to 14 years of imprisonment and lifetime supervised release for attempting to provide material support to a foreign terrorist organization, as well as 5 years of imprisonment each for threats against the President of the United States and threats against family members of the President of the United States. All three terms of imprisonment will be served concurrently.
“This defendant plotted an attack on families and children in downtown Cleveland on July 4th, a day of utmost importance to all Americans, and he further attempted to undermine our democracy by making threats against the President and his family,” U.S. Attorney Justin Herdman said. “For this conduct, the defendant is deserving of every day of this 14 year sentence. The Department of Justice is committed to protecting our nation from people who adhere to violent ideologies and move to act upon them, whether they are in furtherance of their own personal aims or, like here, on behalf of terrorist groups like Al Qaeda. We are grateful to the FBI, the Cleveland Joint Terrorism Task Force, and all of our law enforcement partners for their vigilance and hard work in this case and many others.”
“Pitts, a U.S. citizen living in Ohio, pledged his allegiance to al-Qaeda, a foreign terrorist organization, and will now serve a lengthy sentence behind bars,” said FBI Special Agent in Charge Eric B. Smith. “The FBI and the Joint Terrorism Task Force will continue to use every available resource to disrupt those who seek to bring harm to our fellow citizens.”
According to an affidavit filed in the case and other court records, between 2015 and 2017, Pitts expressed anti-American sentiments and expressed a desire to recruit people to kill Americans. The defendant expressed a desire to meet with an al Qaeda “brother” and in June he was introduced to an FBI employee acting in an undercover capacity (UCE), who Pitts believed was such a “brother.”
Pitts and the UCE met in Walton Hills, Ohio, in 2018, where they discussed launching an attack for al Qaeda during the July 4th holiday.
Pitts said: “I’m trying to figure out something that would shake them up on the 4th of July.” He later stated: “What would hit them at their core? Blow up in the, have a bomb blow up in the 4th of July parade.”
Pitts searched Google for a map of downtown Cleveland. After learning the fireworks would be launched from Voinovich Park, Pitts said: “Oh there you go. Oh yeah.” He was also pleased the park was near the U.S. Coast Guard station, the Army Corps of Engineers, and the Celebrezze Federal Building.
The meeting concluded with Pitts indicating to the UCE that he would travel to downtown Cleveland soon to take photographs and videotape footage as part of surveillance efforts of Voinovich Park and the U.S. Coast Guard station. He also expressed a desire to take a tour of the U.S. Coast Guard station to gain as much information as he could about the layout of the facility.
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 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 Pitts 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 also expressed a desire to pack a car filled with explosives near the parade, as opposed to his original idea of remote control cars filled with explosives. Pitts reasoned that less time and skill were required to pack a car with explosives versus packing individual remote control cars. Pitts further disclosed additional reconnaissance planning prior to the parade:
DP: That’s why I said I’m going down there the 2nd and the 3rd by myself.
UCE: Alright. Because we gotta have this lined up.
DP: That’s why I’m not going down by the naval base this time. I’m walking the parade route, where they going.
DP: I might find another pick, but that point is guaranteed. That’s the one we want.
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.
Pitts was reminded by the UCE that people would die and body parts would by flying around. Pitts responded “I don’t care” and that he had “no regrets,” would be able to “go to sleep” and “I don’t give a (expletive).”
During this conversation, Pitts once again discussed the use of remote control cars, namely as a distraction. Pitts told the UCE that he believed cut up metal should replace BBs in the remote control cars, saying: “If BBs hit you, you can still live, but if shrapnel hits you – it will tear you up.” Pitts further stated remote control cars should be rolled underneath a police car or federal agent car and detonated so that it distracted law enforcement and parade goers while the larger bomb was detonated.
Pitts’ additional plan for remote control cars packed with metal and explosives was that they be given to children of military personnel to play with during the parade so that the children would unwittingly detonate the bombs.
Pitts was arrested at the conclusion of the July 1 meeting.
The FBI-Cleveland Division’s Joint Terrorism Task investigated the case, which was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Michelle Baeppler and Jerry Teresinski of the Northern District of Ohio, and Trial Attorney Paul Casey of the National Security Division’s Counterterrorism Section.