A man accused of plotting to use hand grenades to attack holiday shoppers at a suburban shopping mall pleaded not guilty in federal court Tuesday.

Derrick Shareef, a 22-year-old Muslim convert, was arrested Dec. 6 after allegedly meeting an undercover agent to trade stereo speakers for a pistol and four grenades. Authorities claim he planned to blow up garbage cans at the CherryVale shopping mall in Rockford during the Christmas shopping rush.

He 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. The latter charge carries a possible sentence of life in prison.

Defense attorney Michael B. Mann refused to answer reporters' questions outside of court.

The next court date is Feb. 23, and Coar said he would set a trial date then.

Shareef's arrest came after an FBI-led anti-terrorism task force investigation; an undercover informant secretly tape-recorded his plans.

He was indicted on Jan. 4.

Prosecutors have said they were convinced Shareef had operated alone and there had been no imminent danger to the public. Shareef was born in the United States and converted to Islam, officials have said.

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