FBI arrests man who planned to bomb Cleveland July 4 event

July 2 (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.

More: Where survivors of the Boston Marathon bombing are today  

Where survivors of the Boston Marathon bombing are today
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Where survivors of the Boston Marathon bombing are today
BOSTON, MA - JULY 4: Ritajayne Rivera wears American themed sneakers with the date of the Boston Marathon bombing written on them before the start of the Boston Pops Fireworks Spectacular in Boston on Jul. 4, 2017. Rivera was near the first bomb during marathon. (Nicholas Pfosi for The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
BOSTON, MA - APRIL 16: Marc Fucarile and Patrick Downes, Boston Marathon bombing survivors and members of the Achilles Freedom Team of Wounded Veterans, are introduced during a ceremony before a game between the Boston Red Sox and the Tampa Bay Rays on April 16, 2017 at Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)
INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MAY 27: Boston Marathon bombing survivor Jeff Bauman talks with Amy Purdy after his lap in the IndyCar two seater at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on May 27, 2017 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images)
CAMBRIDGE, MA - MARCH 26: Jessica Kensky and her service dog Rescue at their home in Cambridge, Mass., March 26, 2018. Jessica and her husband Patrick Downes were injured in the Boston Marathon Bombing. Her dog, Rescue, changed her life and she has written a children's book 'Rescue & Jessica' based on her experiences with losing her legs. (Photo by Suzanne Kreiter/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
ROME, ITALY - OCTOBER 28: Actor Jake Gyllenhaal (L) and writer Jeff Bauman (R), victim of Boston marathon bombing 2013 attend the red carpet of the movie 'Stronger' during 12th Film Fest of Rome at Auditorium Parco Della Musica in Rome, Italy on October 28, 2017. (Photo by Primo Barol/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 16: Boston Marathon bombing survivors Patrick Downes, left, and Jessica Kensky pose for photos with Kensky's service dog Rescue at the 2017 ASPCA Humane Awards in New York City on Nov. 16, 2017. Rescue was named the ASPCA's Dog of the Year. (Photo by David L. Ryan/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
Meb Keflezighi, of the United States, 2014 winner of the Boston Marathon, kisses the hand of Bill Richard, who lost his son, Martin, in the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings, after Keflezighi finished the 121st Boston Marathon in Boston, Massachusetts, U.S., April 17, 2017. REUTERS/Gretchen Ertl
BOSTON, MA - MARCH 15: Lynn Crisci, survivor of the Boston Marathon bombing, poses for a portrait in Boston on Mar. 15, 2017. People who suffered PTSD from the Boston Marathon bombings say they have never been fully recognized as survivors of the terrorist attacks. As the fourth anniversary of the bombing nears, survivors who did not receive compensation from the One Fund say they feel marginalized. (Photo by Suzanne Kreiter/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
BOSTON, MA - APRIL 22: Adrianne Haslet-Davis, Boston Marathon bombing survivor, is honored wearing her 2016 Boston Marathon completion medal during the second quarter of Game Three of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals between the Boston Celtics and the Atlanta Hawks during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at TD Garden on April 22, 2016 in Boston, Massachusetts. NOTE TO USER User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
BOSTON, MA - OCTOBER 1: David Ortiz #34 of the Boston Red Sox greets Boston Marathon bombing survivors during a ceremony honoring his accomplishments off the field on October 1, 2016 at Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Michael Ivins/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)
NEWTON, MA - APRIL 18: Boston Marathon bombing survivor Patrick Downes, center, runs along Commonwealth Avenue near 'Heartbreak Hill' in Newton, Mass., during the 120th Boston Marathon on April 18, 2016. (Photo by Keith Bedford/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
BOSTON - APRIL 17: The family of the late Martin Richard, the 8-year-old Dorchester boy who was killed three years ago in the Boston Marathon bombings, acknowledges the crowd as they are introduced to the crowd while standing on top of the Boston Red Sox dugout between innings of a game between the Boston Red Sox and the Toronto Blue Jays at Fenway Park in Boston on April 17, 2016. (Photo by Jim Davis/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
HOUSTON, TX - JULY 21: Rebekah Gregory, a Boston Marathon bombing survivor throws out the first pitch at Minute Maid Park on July 21, 2015 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)
NORTH ANDOVER, MA - MAY 28: Air National Guard Lt. Col. John Klatt invited Boston Marathon bombing survivors, Celeste Corcoran, from Lowell, and her daughter Sydney, 20, to fly in formation over the Merrimack Valley. Klatt is one of the top performing aerobatic pilots in the country. He will be performing with his fellow stunt-pilots of the John Klatt Airshows this Saturday and Sunday along with the Blue Angels at the Quonset Air Show in Rhode Island where the Corcorans will be his VIP guests. Celeste flew in the front seat of Klatt's plane while it does a roll, while Sydney was in the front seat of pilot Dell Coller's (red) plane. The other plane was piloted by Jeff Boerboon. (Photo by John Tlumacki/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

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. (Reporting by Makini Brice in Washington; Additional reporting by Barbara Goldberg in New York; Editing by Scott Malone, Jeffrey Benkoe, Frances Kerry and Jonathan Oatis)

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