By Dan Eggen
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, December 9, 2006
An Illinois man was charged yesterday with planning to set off hand grenades in a shopping mall during the holiday rush, part of a professed desire to wage "violent jihad" on U.S. targets, according to a federal criminal complaint filed in Chicago.
Derrick Shareef, 22, was arrested Wednesday in Rockford, Ill., about 90 miles west of Chicago, after meeting with an undercover federal agent in a store parking lot and trading a set of stereo speakers for four hand grenades, a handgun and bullets, according to an FBI affidavit.
Shareef -- a U.S. citizen who converted to Islam several years ago -- allegedly prepared for an attack on Rockford's CherryVale Mall by making a "martyrdom" videotape in which he declared that "the time for jihad is now" and that he was "ready to give my life" in the mission.
Authorities said Shareef has no apparent ties to any terrorist group and is believed to have been acting alone. He was charged with attempting to damage or destroy a building by fire or explosion and attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction.
The case is the latest terrorism-related sting involving undercover FBI informants and agents to become public. Some of those involved have played active roles in guiding the direction of the cases.
In Shareef's case, for example, the investigation began after an informant told the FBI in September that Shareef had talked about his desire to wage "violent jihad" on U.S. targets. It was the FBI informant who suggested that it might be better to "hit the mall" as a target, after a conversation in which Shareef focused on attacking government buildings instead, according to the affidavit.
Civil liberties advocates and some lawmakers have raised questions about FBI tactics in such cases, including the prosecution of an alleged terror cell in Miami whose members said they wanted to blow up the Sears Tower in Chicago but had no apparent means to do so.
But Daniel L. Byman, director of the Security Studies Program at Georgetown University, said a case like Shareef's "can actually be seen as effective counterterrorism."
"This is a good-news, good-news story: It shows the low capabilities of domestic jihadists and that the FBI appears to be on top of it," he said.
The FBI's affidavit alleges that Shareef decided to carry out the attack during the holiday shopping period because crowds would be larger and to place grenades in garbage cans to maximize injuries from shrapnel. Shareef had also considered attacks on synagogues, a city hall and courthouses, saying at one point that he wanted to "smoke a judge," according to tape-recorded conversations recounted by the FBI.
The FBI recorded Shareef's conversations and trailed him as he accompanied the informant on scouting trips through the CherryVale mall. Shareef was arrested Wednesday after he took possession of a lockbox containing the grenades and a 9mm pistol, the affidavit says.
The grenades and ammunition were not operative, and the public was never in any serious danger, officials said. "While these are very serious charges, at no time was the public in any imminent peril as a result of the defendant's activities," U.S. Attorney Patrick J. Fitzgerald said in a news release.