Alleged Cleveland terror suspect discussed travel plans to San Francisco for al Quaeda: FBI

An American-born citizen who federal authorities say recently scouted locations in Cleveland  to attack people watching Fourth of July fireworks and talked of carrying out additional bombings has been charged with trying to support terrorism. 

While the main attack appears to have been planned for Cleveland and possibly Philadelphia, the FBI's criminal complaint against Demetrius Pitts, 48, also alleged he "also discussed possibly traveling to San Francisco to conduct additional targeting and reconnaissance on behalf of al Qaeda."

The federal documents were not more specific than that regarding the timing and location of the Bay Area intended targets. FBI spokeswoman Vicki Anderson told KTVU that she could not provide any more information than what was in the complaint. 

At a news conference in Cleveland on Monday, federal authorities said that Pitts, who also went by Abdur Raheem Rahfeez and Salahadeen Osama Waleed, had repeatedly expressed his support for al-Qaida for more than a year and talked about setting off bombs at a July 4 parade and later in his hometown of Philadelphia.

Pitts was due in federal court Monday in Cleveland. There were no court documents listing an attorney for him.

He was arrested Sunday after meeting an undercover agent and charged with attempted support of a terrorist organization.

FBI Special Agent Stephen Anthony said it was not clear how close Pitts was to carrying out his threats, but he said authorities couldn't sit back and wait to find out.

The FBI had been tipped to Pitts as far back as 2015, when he sent a private Facebook message to “The Craig Sewing Show,” a California-based political commentary show, saying: “The USA will be destroy. Allahu Akbar.” In 2017, he made public Facebook comments suggesting violence, and an FBI investigation that continued into 2018 determined he was “willing to conduct a U.S. based attack,” according to the affidavit.

The FBI began investigating Pitts when he lived in the Cincinnati area and continued to monitor him when he moved in May to a Cleveland suburb, Anthony said. Last month, an undercover FBI employee posing as someone with al-Qaeda ties met with Pitts, and Pitts talked of chopping off people’s heads and hands, according to the affidavit.

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.

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.

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.

In recent weeks, Pitts also talked about wanting to travel to Philadelphia, and on Sunday 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.

This is at least the second thwarted terrorist attack the FBI has made with links to the Bay Area. In December 2017, the FBI arrested Everitt Aaron Jameson of Modesto who they say was planning a Christmas attack on Pier 39 in San Francisco. In June, Jameson, 26, is set to face 15-years in prison after pleading guilty to a charge of attempting to provide material support to a foreign terrorist organization.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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