On Wednesday, November 28, at the Dirksen Federal Courthouse in downtown Chicago, Derrick Shareef pled guilty in U.S. District Court on federal charges of attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction. Shareef had previously pled not guilty, and his trial had been scheduled to begin on December 10. He will be sentenced on March 14 and faces 30 years to life in prison. While the guilty plea brings his case to an end, the saga that his arrest kicked off has only just begun.
Shareef was arrested last December 8 in the parking lot of the Wal-Mart on East State Street in Rockford, when he attempted to trade a set of speakers for four hand grenades and a handgun from an FBI agent. For several months, he had been plotting an attack on CherryVale Mall, the largest mall in the Rockford area, during the height of the Christmas shopping season. The plot was foiled by a “confidential source” who alerted the FBI.
Immediately after Shareef’s arrest, but before the arrest was publicly announced, that same confidential source contacted Hassan Abujihaad, once a roommate of Shareef in Phoenix, Arizona. Federal authorities had long suspected that Abujihaad, a former Navy signalman, had transferred classified information concerning the movement of a naval battlegroup in the Persian Gulf to a jihadist website in the months leading up to September 11.
Shareef’s arrest, and the recorded conversations of the confidential source and Abujihaad, provided the evidence necessary to obtain an arrest warrant, and Abujihaad was arrested on March 7 on charges of passing classified information. He has since been accused of plotting with Shareef to attack military-recruitment centers in Arizona and a military base in San Diego, California. He is scheduled to go on trial in federal court in New Haven, Connecticut, on February 25.
While federal authorities have told the Chicago Tribune that no agreement was reached with Shareef, the timing of Shareef’s plea indicates that something larger is afoot. While Shareef was pleading guilty, an evidentiary hearing was taking place in New Haven concerning the use of secret documents and recordings in Abujihaad’s trial. As the Connecticut Post reports, prosecutors intend to make their case for the use of the documents by tying Abujihaad to Shareef through “FBI recordings and a cooperating witness.” Even if Shareef has not agreed to testify against Abujihaad, his guilty plea makes the case against Abujihaad even more convincing.
If Abujihaad is from Arizona, why is he being tried in Connecticut? The charges were entered there because that is where the jihadist website was hosted. And with Shareef’s guilty plea, the pressure increases on Abujihaad to make an agreement that will help federal prosecutors to convince Great Britain to allow the extradition of Babar Ahmad, the operator of the website. Even Abujihaad, it appears, is a small fish in the jihadist sea. The case against Ahmad has the potential to unearth records of a broader jihadist network and to validate the federal government’s claim that Muslim extremists have been using the internet to plan terrorist attacks.
With Shareef’s arrest, the first domino fell; with his guilty plea, the pace picks up. So far, the national media hasn’t put the pieces together. When they do, this case will make greater waves than that of José Padilla.
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