A 22-year-old Muslim convert who federal authorities claim was willing to die committing acts of ”violent jihad” pleaded not guilty on Tuesday to charges that he plotted an attack at a Rockford shopping mall.
Derrick Shareef appeared at his arraignment clad in the orange jumpsuit of a federal prisoner and calmly answered questions posed by U.S. District Judge David Coar about his age, education and medical history. He told Coar that he’d gotten his GED and had never been hospitalized for psychiatric treatment.
”I feel well,” Shareef said, before Coar let him read the charges against him and enter the plea.
Shareef, a Muslim convert who the government said also goes by the name Talib Abu Salam Ibn Shareef, was arrested Dec. 6 after allegedly meeting an undercover agent to trade stereo speakers for a pistol and four grenades.
He planned to ”commit acts of violent jihad” by blowing up garbage cans at the 130-store CherryVale shopping mall in Rockford during the Christmas shopping rush, according to a federal complaint. The complaint also said Shareef considered attacking city halls and courthouses.
”Any place that’s crowded, like a mall is good, anything, any government facility is good,” he allegedly told a secret FBI informant when they talked about possible attack targets. ”I swear by Allah man, I’m down for it too, I’m down for the cause, I’m down to live for the cause and die for the cause, man.”
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, related to the alleged mall plot.
The arson and explosives count carries a possible sentence of five to 20 years in prison. The weapons of mass destruction charge carries a possible sentence of life in prison. Both counts carry a maximum fine of $250,000.
The next court date was a hearing scheduled for Feb. 23, and Coar said he would set a trial date then.
Shareef, who is being held in custody, already has waived preliminary and detention hearings.
He was arrested Dec. 6 after an undercover informant secretly tape-recorded his plans during an FBI-led anti-terrorism task force investigation, and 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.
And he became yet another alleged misunderstander of his new religion.