updated 9/30/2008 6:20:27 PM ET 2008-09-30T22:20:27

A one-time admirer of Osama bin Laden who plotted a hand-grenade attack at a mall jammed with Christmas shoppers — and tried to trade two stereo speakers for the weapons — was sentenced to 35 years in prison Tuesday.

Derrick Shareef of Rockford said he once admired bin Laden as a sheik and a scholar but has changed his views and opposes violence.

"I am not an extremist," said Shareef, who was sentenced on his 24th birthday.

U.S. District Judge David H. Coar said he hopes Shareef has changed but that a long sentence still was warranted to discourage others who might plan similar attacks. He could have given Shareef life in prison.

"Almost every defendant who appears in this court says, 'I have now seen the light and if you just give me another chance it won't happen again,'" Coar told Shareef. "Some of these are people with criminal records as long as my arm."

Shareef was arrested Dec. 6, 2006, in a Rockford parking lot after he offered an undercover FBI agent two stereo speakers for four hand grenades and a 9 mm pistol.

A plan to detonate grenades
Agents said Shareef's plan was to detonate the grenades in garbage cans in the big Cherryvale Mall on Dec. 22 — the Friday before Christmas. The blasts were expected to spray the mall with lethal shrapnel, the agents said.

"There is absolutely no question that he intended to carry this out — it would have killed many innocent people," prosecutor Sergio Acosta said.

The arrest initially attracted attention as a potentially major terrorism arrest, but it soon became known that Shareef acted alone except for a paid government informant and had been under surveillance for weeks before his arrest.

Shareef's attorney Donald Young, accompanied by Shareef's mother, declined to comment.

In an impassioned brief filed with the court, Young had portrayed Shareef as a confused young man who had grown up in a fatherless home and fallen under the sway of the informant, a onetime member of Chicago's big, drug-selling Four Corner Hustlers street gang.

Acosta, however, said that before Shareef ever met the informant he lived for a time in Phoenix with a man later convicted of aiding terrorists and espionage. Before his arrest, Shareef had been watching violent videos and jihad training videos, Acosta said.

"So far as the informant leading him astray, the man (Shareef) was a ticking time bomb," Acosta told the court.

Young said Shareef now opposes violent jihad and has adopted more positive Muslim beliefs. He said Shareef has emerged as the imam of the Metropolitan Correctional Center, the federal jail where he is being held.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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