FBI: Cleveland terror suspect expressed desire for Philadelphia attack

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- Officials say a man who was arrested for allegedly planning a terrorist attack in downtown Cleveland on July 4th also expressed a desire to plan an attack in Philadelphia.

Demetrius Pitts, an American-born citizen, was arrested on Sunday morning. He also goes by aliases such as Abdur Raheem Rafeeq and Salah ad-Deen Osama Walee, officials said.

According to public records, Pitts last lived in Philadelphia in 2011, but only for a brief period. But according to court records, he allegedly told an undercover FBI agent that Philadelphia was his hometown.

Demetrius Pitts

Investigators say Pitts wanted to target a July 4th parade in Cleveland and people who would be watching fireworks in that city.

Authorities say Demetrius Pitts told an undercover FBI agent that he would be planning a terror attack on Philadelphia for Labor Day weekend. He named the Federal Building at 6th and Arch streets and City Hall as potential targets.

"He was not immediately engaged in planning an attack on Philadelphia. But it was on his mind and Philadelphia was considered 'the big target,' as he put it," said U.S. Attorney William McSwain.

READ: Full Criminal Complaint against Demetrius Pitts (Warning: Harsh Language)

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FBI news conference on arrest of terror suspect Demetrius Pitts on July 2, 2018.

Investigators began looking at Pitts last year after a violent post indicating allegiance to Al Queda allegedly appeared on Facebook under the alias Abdur Raheem Rahfeeq.

Federal authorities began watching Pitts and introduced the undercover agent who portrayed himself as an Al Queda member.

Stephen Anthony, the Special Agent in Charge of the FBI's Cleveland Division, said Pitts also expressed a desire to kill military personnel and their families, along with a desire to kill federal and local agents.

He later began meeting with an undercover agent and discussed several different ways to carry out an attack, according to court documents. Pitts also talked about his hatred for the U.S. military, Anthony said.

"He talked about for a Philadelphia-based attack he talked about using an automobile packed with explosives similar to the Oklahoma City bombing," McSwain said.

An undercover agent in late June gave Pitts a bus pass and cellphone that he thought were from al-Qaida supporters so that he could go downtown and look for locations to carry out his attacks, according to a complaint filed by authorities.

The FBI said Pitts conducted reconnaissance on Cleveland last week and looked for locations to park a van that would be packed with explosives. He also allegedly discussed giving remote control cars packed with metal and explosives and giving them to the children of uniform members.

Pitts shot videos of potential targets such as a federal building and U.S. Coast Guard station and then turned over the phone last week, believing the photos and videos would be given to al-Qaida members, the document said.

On Sunday Pitts told the undercover agent he wanted to conduct reconnaissance for a future attack using a truck packed with explosives, similar to the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, authorities said in the complaint.

Anthony said Pitts had been radicalized in the U.S. and that he had no information that Pitts had traveled out of the country.

"Are you kidding me? No!" That was the reaction from Judith, Munroe. Pitts used to live next door to her on the 400 Block of Domino Lane in Philadelphia's Roxobourgh section.

She remembers Pitts who back then told her he worked as a baker in the city. She didn't know him well but says he never expressed any radical thoughts.

"He was always trying to sell something - sheets or like whatever," Munroe said.

Pitts has been charged in federal court with one count of attempting to provide material support to a designated foreign terrorist organization.

The statutory max sentence for that charge is 20 years in prison.

The FBI said Pitts has an extensive criminal history including charges of assault, domestic violence, aggravated robbery and carrying a concealed weapon.


Information from The Associated Press was used in this post.

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