Officials alleged that Demetrius Nathaniel Pitts, also known as Abdur Raheem Rahfeeq, planned to fill a van with explosives and target people watching fireworks in downtown Cleveland on the Fourth of July. The 48-year-old allegedly expressed his desire to join al-Qaeda and to conduct a US-based attack that would “hit them in their core”.
Mr Pitts believed he was working with members of al-Qaeda to plan the 4 July attack, but was actually corresponding with an undercover FBI agent, according to special agent in charge Stephen Anthony. He was arrested by members of the joint terrorism task force on Sunday morning.
The US citizen was charged with attempting to provide material support to a foreign terrorist organisation, and now faces up to 20 years in prison. There are no court records showing an attorney for Mr Pitts, according to the Associated Press.
The FBI investigation started last year, when the agency received reports that Mr Pitts had expressed support for al-Qaeda and broadcast violent intentions towards the US military online, according to Mr Anthony.
In conversations with an undercover agent, Mr Pitts allegedly expressed willingness to support an attack in Cleveland on the Fourth of July, as well as a future attack on Philadelphia, where he used to reside.
This past weekend, he allegedly conducted recognizance on possible sites for the attack, including Cleveland’s Voinovich Park and the city’s US Coast Guard station.
Mr Anthony told reporters he was unsure if Mr Pitts had the resources to pull off such an attack, but that it was his “intent and desire to do so”.
Mr Pitts had several violent crimes on his record, including felonious assault, domestic violence, and aggravated robbery, Mr Anthony said.
Chief Calvin Williams urged Cleveland citizens to “stay vigilant” for other, possible attacks over the summer, but officials also encouraged residents to continue with their holiday celebrations.
“I ask this week that we all continue to gather, continue to celebrate America … to continue to have our barbecues and continue to watch fireworks,’ US Attorney Justin Herdman said.
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