(Reuters) – FBI officials arrested a man who discussed setting off a bomb during Fourth of July celebrations in Cleveland, the bureau’s top agent in the Ohio city said on Monday.
Demetrius Pitts, who had expressed allegiance to the al Qaeda militant group, was arrested on Sunday after a meeting with an undercover FBI agent where he said he planned to plant a bomb at a parade celebrating the U.S. Independence Day holiday and would target other locations in Cleveland and Philadelphia.
“What would hit them in the core? … Blow up. Have a bomb. Blow up at the Fourth of July parade,” Stephen Anthony, the FBI’s head agent in Cleveland, quoted Pitts as saying. Anthony also told a news conference that the man was “willing to chop off hands and heads.”
Pitts, 48, is from the Cleveland suburb of Maple Heights, Ohio, the FBI said in a statement.
Like many other American cities, downtown Cleveland puts on a fireworks display to celebrate July 4.
Cities typically ramp up security around such events.
“This defendant, by his own words and by his own deeds, wanted to attack our nation and its ideals,” said Justin Herdman, the U.S. attorney for northern Ohio. “He wanted us to be afraid to speak our minds. He also wanted us to be afraid to gather together in public places.”
Pitts was charged with attempting to provide material support to a designated foreign terrorist organization. He faces up to 20 years in prison if he is convicted.
Officials said Pitts is an American citizen who had been radicalized in the United States.
In 2015, U.S. law enforcement officials said they had arrested more than 10 people inspired by the Islamic State militant group ahead of the Fourth of July holiday, saying the arrests had disrupted planned attacks.
A pair of ethnic Chechen brothers inspired by al Qaeda killed three people and injured more than 260 with a pair of homemade bombs at the Boston Marathon in 2013.
Eight people were killed in New York last Oct. 31 when an Uzbek immigrant was accused of using a truck to plow them down on a bike path. The suspect told police that he chose Halloween for the attack because he thought there would be more people on the streets, according to prosecutors.