CHICAGO – A man has been arrested by federal agents on charges of planning to set off hand grenades at an Illinois shopping mall on Dec. 22 as part of his plan to commit "violent jihad" against civilians.
Derrick Shareef, 22, of Rockford, was arrested when he carried out a rendezvous with an undercover agent in a parking lot to trade a set of stereo speakers for four grenades and a handgun.
Federal officials said he planned to place the grenades in garbage cans at the CherryVale shopping mall in Rockford, about 90 miles northwest of Chicago.
Shareef was charged with one count of attempting to damage or destroy a building by fire or explosion and one count of attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction. Officials say he was acting alone and there was never any real threat.
"The Joint Terrorism Task Force was all over this … and the only person involved in this plot was Mr. Shareef and two people working for the government," U.S. Attorney Patrick J. Fitzgerald said during a press conference from Chicago Friday afternoon.
"We believe we've neutralized this threat," added Robert Grant, special agent in charge of the Chicago office of the FBI.
He planned the attack for the Friday before Christmas.
"He fixed on a day of December 22nd on Friday ... because it was the Friday before Christmas and thought that would be the highest concentration of shoppers that he could kill and injure," Grant said.
If convicted, each charge in the complaint carries a maximum penalty of life in prison and a $250,000 fine.
A handcuffed Shareef appeared before U.S. Magistrate Judge Maria Valdez Friday. She ordered him held without bond and set a Dec. 20 hearing on a defense motion for bail.
"He did have the intention, if the allegations in the complaint are true, to engage in violence against the public," Fitzgerald added.
Fitzgerald noted that Shareef only decided upon the targeted mall after surveying several facilities, and that he was not a well-funded would-be terrorist.
Federal officials said that in September, Shareef became acquainted with a witness who was cooperating with the FBI and confided to him that he wanted to commit acts of "violent jihad," as well as other crimes, to obtain funds to further his goals.
From then on, Shareef's activities and movements were under constant surveillance and "there was no imminent risk to the public," Robert Grant, special agent-in-charge of the Chicago Office of the FBI, said in a statement.
"By using an undercover agent, confidential sources and physical surveillance, the JTTF was in position to continuously monitor Shareef's activities and was prepared to intervene before he could act," he added.
The CherryVale Mall was among several potential targets that Shareef allegedly discussed during the course of the investigation, authorities said, while the others were primarily local government facilities.
According to an FBI affidavit supporting the complaint, Shareef became acquainted in September with someone in Rockford, in whom he confided about his jihad dreams. That confidant, referred to as "the CS" in the affidavit, was a FBI witness. The CS told Shareef that he would introduce him to a friend who was able to obtain weapons. That "friend" was actually an undercover government agent.
During the investigation, the CS recorded many conversations with Shareef. On Nov. 29, Shareef mentioned "courthouses, city hall, government places, government facilities," as potential targets.
The next day, Shareef and the CS discussed the CherryVale Mall as a possible target. Around 6:15 p.m. on Nov. 30, Shareef and the CS went to the mall while under surveillance by authorities.
They walked around, discussing the layout and best spots to set off several grenades to create more pandemonium, according to the affidavit. In a Dec. 1 conversation, the two allegedly discussed purchasing hand grenades from the undercover agent and the timing mechanism of the grenades. They also discussed shaving their body hair and meditating to prepare for an attack.
When they arrived at the mall a second time under surveillance, Shareef and the CS walked around and measured the time it would take to walk from one point to another in the mall.
According to the affidavit, on Dec. 2, while driving around Rockford in the CS's car and still under surveillance, Shareef and the CS discussed exchanging a set of Shareef's stereo speakers for the weapons. Later that day, the two videotaped each other making statements similar to those made by those planning attacks in the name of jihad, according to the complaint.
The exchange between the CS, Shareef and the undercover was scheduled for Wednesday of this week at a store parking lot in Rockford. After greeting each other, the two showed each other the equipment they were to swap, then the CS signaled federal agents waiting nearby. Shareef was arrested without incident.
FOX News' Ian McCaleb and The Associated Press contributed to this report.