Virginia man pleads guilty over ties to al Shabaab

Wed Oct 20, 2010 5:24pm EDT
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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A Virginia man pleaded guilty on Wednesday to trying to help Somalia's islamic militant group al Shabaab and making threats against the writers of the satirical "South Park" television show for their depiction of the Prophet Mohammad.

Zachary Chesser, 20, pleaded guilty to three counts including communicating threats, soliciting others to threaten violence and material support to al Shabaab, prosecutors said. He could face up to 30 years in prison.

Prosecutors said he tried to fly twice to Somalia to join al Shabaab, which has ties to al Qaeda. He once tried to take his infant son on the trip in hopes that would help him avoid detection, they said.

Chesser also ran numerous websites and called for violence against Americans. In one instance he published the home addresses for the writers of the "South Park" show after they lampooned the Prophet Mohammad and he urged readers to "pay them a visit."

Most Muslims consider any depiction of the founder of Islam as offensive.

"Zachary Chesser seriously endangered the lives of innocent people who will remain at risk for many years to come," Neil MacBride, the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, said in a statement.

Chesser was also accused of publishing on the Internet calls by a fiery anti-American cleric, Anwar al-Awlaki, to join jihad efforts and how to do it, according to court documents.

The cleric, who is believed to be hiding in Yemen, has been connected to incidents including the attempted Christmas Day bombing of a U.S. airliner and the Obama administration has authorized the CIA to capture or kill al-Awlaki.

Separately, on Monday Chesser's wife was charged with one count of making false statements to authorities.

(Reporting by Jeremy Pelofsky, editing by Jerry Norton)