Cleveland terror suspect had ties to Columbus, Cincinnati

Demetrius Pitts (North Olmsted Police Department via AP)

COLUMBUS– It’s not clear if Demetrius Pitts had the capability of carrying out terrorist plots in Cleveland and Philadelphia.

But federal authorities said the Ohio man did express interest in killing Americans and carrying out terrorist bombings during meetings with an undercover FBI agent last month.

That undercover agent, who was not named in federal court records, was posing as an al Qaeda sympathizer.

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Pitts, whose listed address had been in Cincinnati in recent years, also had ties to Columbus and Philadelphia, both federal and local court records show.

He was arrested Sunday and is now facing a federal charge of attempt to provide material support or resources to a foreign terrorist organization.

According to the federal complaint released Monday, Pitts posted messages on social media sites like Facebook as early as 2015 expressing opinions against American armed forces.

By January of 2017, federal authorities say Pitts commented on a jihad training camp video, writing online: “We as Muslims need to start. Training like this every day (sic). We need to know (sic) how to shoot guns… We should always be prepared to fight…”

By June of 2018, the FBI was already months into its investigation into Pitts.

During a series of meetings between Pitts and the undercover agent in northern Ohio, the two had candid conversations about Pitts’ desire to carry out bombings in both Cleveland on the Fourth of July and later Philadelphia, according to the federal complaint.

Federal authorities went so far in their sting operation as to provide Pitts with a bus pass in the Cleveland area, which he used to help scout locations for his planned attack, according to the court records.

10 Investigates found that Pitts, who also was known as Abdur Raheem Rafeeq, most recently wanted to be called Salahadeen Osama Waleed. According to the complaint, “Salah ad-Deen” is what Pitts told the undercover agent he wanted to be called, telling the undercover agent it meant “the planner.”

Franklin County court documents show Demetrius Pitts listed a yellow house on Hildreth Avenue as his address in 2007, the same year he pleaded guilty to a theft charge in Columbus. He was also held locally in 2016 on Pennsylvania charges, which were later dropped.

According to a background search of public records, Pitts also listed two Columbus homeless shelters as places of residence in the mid-2000s.

Neighbors along the street told 10 Investigates Monday that they either didn’t recognize Pitts’ picture or only had vague memories of a man that fit Pitts’ description living on the street about 10 years ago.

“I’m surprised. I’m surprised,” said Michael Caldwell, a resident of Hildreth Avenue. “Is he in custody?”

Pitts was arrested Sunday while conversing with the undercover agent about this plot to bomb Cleveland during that city’s Fourth of July celebrations.

The undercover agent confirmed that Pitts said there would be a large explosion in front of the U.S. Coast Guard Station in Cleveland on July 4th. Before his arrest, Pitts told the agent he was also interested in traveling to San Francisco to conduct additional targeting and reconnaissance on behalf of al Qaeda.