A Virginia man pleaded guilty today to charges he tried to provide material support to the Somali-based terrorist group Al-Shabaab and for making threats against the writers of "South Park."
Zachary Chesser, a 20-year-old convert to Islam, faces up to 30 years in prison.
The "South Park" threat was not part of the original charge against Chesser filed in July. An April episode of the show, lampooning hypersensitivity concerning images of the prophet Muhammad, depicted a character that was supposed to be Muhammad in a bear suit. The website RevolutionMuslim.com responded by suggesting the producers of the animated comedy could meet a fate similar to Theo Van Gogh, the Dutch filmmaker murdered by an Islamist extremist after producing a 2004 video critical of women's treatment in Islam.
Chesser posted at the website under the name Talhah al-
An official at the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) suggested the whole thing was a hoax "to make Muslims look bad." Hooper added. "We just have very deep suspicions. They say such outrageous, irresponsible things that it almost seems like they're doing it to smear Islam."
In his plea, Chesser admitted making online postings with producer Trey Parker and Matt Stone's addresses and suggesting readers to "pay them a visit." He also posted speeches by al-Qaida cleric Anwar Al-Awlaki in which he cited religious justification for killing people who insult the prophet Muhammad.
"Zachary Chesser seriously endangered the lives of innocent people who will remain at risk for many years to come," U.S. Attorney Neil H. MacBride said in a statement. "His solicitation of extremists to murder U.S. citizens also caused people throughout the country to fear speaking out – even in jest – lest they also be labeled as enemies who deserved to be killed. In admitting his guilt today, Mr. Chesser reminded us of the serious threat homegrown jihadists pose to this country, and I express my gratitude and admiration for the FBI agents who apprehended Mr. Chesser before he could endanger even more Americans."
He also admits to making two attempts to join Al-Shabaab, one in November 2009 and one in July. He was stopped in the most recent attempt and admits bringing his infant son with him as "cover" to avoid suspicion.
His sentencing is scheduled for February. Details of Chesser's actions are spelled out in the DOJ statement here.