What to know about the foiled 4th of July terrorist attack
Fourth of July means big crowds in concentrated spaces, which unfortunately also means the conditions are ripe for a terrorist attack. This is allegedly what 48-year-old Ohio resident Demetrius N. Pitts was thinking before the FBI arrested him on Sunday for plotting to attack a holiday parade celebrating America’s independence in downtown Cleveland.
The arrest was made after an undercover agent posing as a member of al-Qaeda recorded Pitts – who also goes by Abdur Raheem Rahfeeq and Salahadeen Osama Waleed – discussing a plan to use a vehicle carrying explosives to “shake them up on 4th of July.”
“What would, what would hit them in the core?” Pitts asked the agent last week, according to an affidavit released by the FBI. “Blow up in the, have a bomb to blow up at the 4th of July parade.”
Pitts had been on the FBI’s radar since 2015, when he sent a Facebook message threatening the destruction of America to a political commentary show in California. In 2017, the agency received reports that Pitts was “espousing his support for Al Qaeda” and that he had expressed “violent intentions” against the armed forces.
In a press conference Monday morning, FBI Special Agent Stephen Anthony described Pitts’ Facebook posts as “disturbing” and cited his criminal background – which includes robbery and domestic abuse – as contributing to the FBI’s concern. The FBI eventually decided to engage Pitts with an undercover agent to determine if he was a threat to national security. In June, Pitts began discussing with the agent a plot to attack the city’s downtown on the Fourth of July. Last week, he told the agent he was going to scout locations, later texting him that he might opt to attack Philadelphia instead. Pitts and the agent met in person for a final time on Sunday, when Pitts once again expressed a desire to attack Cleveland on the Fourth of July, and also to attack Philadelphia at a later date.
— Ryan J. Reilly (@ryanjreilly) July 2, 2018
Pitts was arrested after this final meeting, and is expected to appear in court on Monday.
“This case illustrates that law enforcement cannot sit back and wait for, in this case, Mr. Pitts to commit a violent act,” Anthony said. “We don’t have the luxury of hoping that an individual decides not to harm someone or get others to act, especially when his continued repeated intentions were to do just that.”
This isn’t the first time the FBI has thwarted a terroist plot on the Fourth of July.
In 2015, then-FBI Director James Comey announced that the agency had stopped “coast to coast” efforts by ISIS “to kill people in the United States” on the holiday. While making the announcement, Comey referred to the terrorist practice of “crowdsourcing terrorism.” Though Pitts appears to have been acting alone as he plotted to attack downtown Cleveland, he has professed an admiration for al-Qaeda and a desire to “chop off heads and hands.”