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Former Genoa man pleads guilty to ‘jihad' plot at Rockford mall

CHICAGO - A 23-year-old man who dreamed of waging violent jihad while under surveillance by the FBI pleaded guilty Wednesday to plotting a hand grenade attack on a Rockford mall crowded with Christmas shoppers. Derrick Shareef, who had lived in Genoa at one time, a softspoken, bushy bearded young man apparently inspired by the violent acts of Mideast terrorists, faces 30 years to life when he is sentenced March 14, according to federal prosecutors. The case drew nationwide attention when Shareef was arrested in December 2006. But prosecutors have said he was under close surveillance as he planned his attack. And nothing has been introduced to suggest Shareef was part of any high-profile terrorist organization. Shareef pleaded guilty to a specific charge of planning to use weapons of mass destruction against persons and property. The charges count hand grenades as such weapons. Federal prosecutor Sergio Acosta told U.S. District Judge David H. Coar that evidence gathered by the FBI-led counter-terrorism task force shows Shareef initially had planned to attack a DeKalb courthouse and was eager to “smoke a judge.” Shareef made the comment in one of several conversations with a federal informant recorded by agents in November 2006. As the conversations between Shareef and the informant continued, the target changed from the courthouse to Rockford's Cherryvale mall where Shareef sought to detonate hand grenades in garbage cans, Acosta said. Prosecutors theorize Shareef wanted the exploding cans to throw off shrapnel-like shards of metal that would prove deadly to shoppers. It was the informant who put Shareef in touch with “a friend” who actually was an undercover federal agent, Acosta said. Shareef was arrested in December when he met with the undercover federal agent in a Rockford parking lot and offered to exchange his stereo speakers for four hand grenades and a gun. The agent showed him four non-functioning grenades as well as a pistol and non-functioning ammunition. Although he pleaded guilty, Shareef said he hadn't intended to hurt anyone and was “coerced into doing things and trapped into doing things.” But federal officials rejected any suggestion Shareef was simply a disturbed wannabe and not a serious threat. “I considered him a real threat then as I do now,” said Greg Fowler, assistant special agent in charge of the Chicago office of the FBI. “I think a reasonable person can conclude that if you throw a hand grenade into a crowded mall at Christmas time you're going to cause serious injuries,” said Fowler, head of the counter-terrorism task force. Acosta said federal investigators have audio and video recordings as well as witnesses and computer files to show Shareef was planning to use violence as part of a campaign of jihad. While they have not alleged Shareef had anything to do with any prominent terrorist group, Acosta did say that he plotted with another man to attack military installations in Phoenix and San Diego. Shareef told Coar that was not true. In addition to the charge he pleaded to, Shareef is charged with planning to use fire or explosives to damage property. Acosta said that charge most likely would be dropped because already is facing life.

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