FBI foil terror plot by American al-Qaida sympathizer

Published 02.07.2018 18:24
Updated 03.07.2018 13:08
emReuters Photo/em
Reuters Photo

The FBI announced Monday the arrest of a professed supporter of al-Qaida who was planning to target members of the U.S. military and their families with a bomb attack on a July 4 parade in Cleveland, Ohio.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation said U.S. citizen Demetrius Nathaniel Pitts, who also used the name Abdur Raheem Rafeeq, told an undercover agent that he wanted to load up a vehicle with explosives and blow it up during the U.S. national day celebrations on Wednesday.

FBI and Justice Department officials said Pitts, a U.S. native with "an extensive criminal history" was arrested Sunday after discussing how to carry out the attack with the undercover agent.

"What would hit them in the core? ... Blow up. Have a bomb. Blow up at the Fourth of July parade," Stephen Anthony, the FBI's head agent in Cleveland, quoted Pitts as saying. Anthony also told a news conference that the man was "willing to chop off hands and heads."

Pitts, 48, is from the Cleveland suburb of Maple Heights, Ohio, the FBI said in a statement.

Like many other American cities, downtown Cleveland puts on a fireworks display to celebrate July 4.

Cities typically ramp up security around such events.

The FBI had been watching him for months after he made statements in support of al-Qaida and expressed "violent intentions" against groups including the U.S. armed forces, Anthony said.

"His Facebook posts, quite frankly, were disturbing," he said.

They said he was focused on the possible locations of an attack and that it was not clear whether he had the ability himself to acquire or build bombs.

Officials also said it was not clear if Pitts had a network inside the United States or abroad.

"This defendant, by his own words and by his own deeds, wanted to attack our nation and its ideals," said Justin Herdman, the U.S. attorney for northern Ohio. "He wanted us to be afraid to speak our minds. He also wanted us to be afraid to gather together in public places."

Pitts was charged with attempting to provide material support to a designated foreign terrorist organization. He faces up to 20 years in prison if he is convicted.

In 2015, U.S. law enforcement officials said they had arrested more than 10 people inspired by the Daesh terror group ahead of the Fourth of July holiday, saying the arrests had disrupted planned attacks.

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