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Al Qaeda sympathizer gets 14 years in prison for plotting Fourth of July terror attack
CLEVELAND, Ohio — A man accused by the FBI of planning a 2018 attack on a downtown Cleveland park during a popular Independence Day celebration was sentenced Tuesday to spend 14 years in federal prison.
Demetrius Pitts, who has roots in Cincinnati and Philadelphia, pleaded guilty in November to attempting to provide material support to the terrorist group al Qaeda, as well as making threats against President Donald Trump and his children. His plea agreement with the U.S. Attorney's Office called for the 14-year sentence.
U.S. District Judge Solomon Oliver Jr. placed the 50 year old on a lifetime of supervised release. He said he agreed to the sentence and felt that a longer term in prison was not warranted, citing Pitts' mental health issues and rough upbringing.
The FBI announced Pitts' arrest two days before the Fourth of July in 2018, after he corresponded with an undercover agent and scoped out areas around Voinovich Park and had expressed a desire to park a van full of explosives near the park. He told an undercover agent he thought was an al Qaeda operative that he wanted to "destroy the government," and had expressed a desire to kill Americans, according to federal prosecutors.
He also liked this location because it was near a U.S. Coast Guard station, the Army Corps of Engineers, and the Celebrezze Federal Building, according to federal prosecutors.
Pitts' made statements about violent attacks or his allegiance to al Qaeda to mostly agents or confidential informants, according to court records. An informant gave Pitts a bus pass to travel downtown, as well as a cellphone he later used to text an undercover agent, authorities said.
He told an undercover agent that he wanted to "destroy the government," and had expressed a desire to kill Americans, according to federal prosecutors. Pitts also said he wanted to cut off Trump's head and hands and kill Trump's children and son-in-law, according to a grand jury indictment.
Pitts, who also goes by Abdur Raheem Rafeeq and Salahadeen Osama Waleed, told Oliver that he should not have made the statements and noted several times that "I'm not a terrorist." He said he was angry, in part because of videos he saw of U.S. attacks overseas.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Michelle Baeppler, however, characterized Pitts as "somebody who was ready and willing to take action," and tried to downplay any notion that he was making idle threats from behind a keyboard.
Pitts was living at a Maple Heights rehabilitation facility at the time of his arrest, though was on the FBI's radar before he was in the Cleveland area. He has criminal convictions stretch back to 1989 and include robbery, domestic violence and theft. He has also said he suffers from mental-health issues.
While authorities have said they arrested Pitts to prevent violence, they haven't said whether he was capable of carrying out an attack. Then-FBI Special Agent in Charge Stephen Anthony declined to say whether Pitts had access to, or was capable of making, an explosive when he announced the arrest.
Instead, Anthony said Pitts had the "desire and intent" to conduct the attack.
Baeppler also said Tuesday that Pitts was the one who sought out a terrorist operative and chose an attack date and time. She also said he was the one with the idea to do reconnaissance, in which he went downtown and took pictures and videos of buildings in preparation for an attack.
Baeppler also said Pitts had talked of similar plans for an attack in Philadelphia.
The judge he felt that Pitts' mental-health and substance-abuse issues played a role in the crimes. Pitts previously underwent a competency exam and was deemed fit to stand trial.
After the sentencing, Pitts looked toward the prosecutors and made a statement that was inaudible from the viewing gallery, though it clearly expressed displeasure. The outburst, however minor, was just one of several quirky actions he exhibited in court during his case.
At his plea hearing in November, he gave a middle finger before moving all his fingers into the same position when he raised his right hand to be sworn in under oath.
©2020 Advance Ohio Media, Cleveland. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
Some Fort Bragg paratroopers who left for the Middle East on a no-notice deployment last month came home Thursday.
About 3,500 soldiers with the 82nd Airborne Division's 1st Brigade Combat Team were sent to Kuwait beginning Jan. 1 as tensions were rising in the region. The first soldiers were in the air within 18 hours of being told to go.
KABUL/WASHINGTON/PESHAWAR, Pakistan (Reuters) - The United States and the Taliban will sign an agreement on Feb. 29 at the end of a week long period of violence reduction in Afghanistan, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and the Taliban said on Friday.
Large cargo ships, small fishing boats and other watercraft sail safely past Naval Station Norfolk every day, but there's always a possibility that terrorists could use any one of them to attack the world's largest naval base.
While Navy security keeps a close eye on every vessel that passes, there's an inherent risk for the sailors aboard small patrol boats who are tasked with helping keep aircraft carriers, submarines and destroyers on base safe from waterborne attacks.
So the Navy experimented Wednesday to test whether an unmanned vessel could stop a small boat threatening the base from the Elizabeth River.
Nancy Turner's modern version of keeping a candle in the window while her soldier son is away is a string of electric lights on the front porch that burn red, white and blue.
But where Turner sees patriotism and support for the troops, her Garner homeowners association sees a covenant violation and a potential $50-per-day fine.
Turner was surprised to receive a threatening email last week after an employee from Sentry Management, which manages the Sheldon Place HOA, spotted the illegal illumination during a neighborhood patrol.
"I honestly had no idea it would be a problem," Turner said.
The HOA did not immediately respond to a request for comment sent as a message through its Facebook page.
In the wee hours of Jan. 8, Tehran retaliated over the U.S. killing of Iran's most powerful general by bombarding the al-Asad air base in Iraq.
Among the 2,000 troops stationed there was U.S. Army Specialist Kimo Keltz, who recalls hearing a missile whistling through the sky as he lay on the deck of a guard tower. The explosion lifted his body - in full armor - an inch or two off the floor.
Keltz says he thought he had escaped with little more than a mild headache. Initial assessments around the base found no serious injuries or deaths from the attack. U.S. President Donald Trump tweeted, "All is well!"
The next day was different.
"My head kinda felt like I got hit with a truck," Keltz told Reuters in an interview from al-Asad air base in Iraq's western Anbar desert. "My stomach was grinding."