Federal agents in the Midwestern state of Illinois have arrested a 22-year-old man for plotting what they describe as "violent jihad." Authorities say the alleged plot involved the use of hand grenades at a local shopping mall. VOA's Greg Flakus has more from our Houston bureau.
Federal agents arrested Derrick Shareef after he spoke with an undercover agent about obtaining hand grenades, which he allegedly planned to use in an attack on crowds of Christmas shoppers at the CherryVale Shopping Mall in Rockford, Illinois, about 144 kilometers south of Chicago.
Authorities say he was acting alone as what they call a "lone jihadist" and that he planned to explode four hand grenades in the mall on December 22, just a few days before Christmas when it would have been packed with people shopping for gifts.
Shareef, who is described as a Muslim convert, discussed his plan with an acquaintance a few months ago. The acquaintance contacted the Federal Bureau of Investigation, or FBI.
The chief FBI agent in Chicago, Robert Grant, says his office took the threat seriously.
"Intelligence came to our attention that Mr. Shareef posed a threat," he said. "The threat was not focused at the time. We immediately began surveillance and investigative operations to determine the level of his threat and what his threat was directed at."
Grant says Shareef was also planning attacks on other locations including courthouses and local synagogues.
Agents say Shareef went to the mall on November 30 to study the layout and determine where would be the best place to detonate the explosive devices in order to cause maximum death and panic.
Although Christmas is a Christian holiday, Shareef allegedly told undercover agents that he also planned to murder Jews. He cited the recent Israeli conflict with Hezbollah in Lebanon as part of his motivation for targeting Jews.
The charges against Shareef include 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. U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald in Chicago says the public was never in any imminent peril from the plot.