Abu Talhah Al-Amrikee: An Extensive Online Footprint
Posted: April 20, 2010
Updated: May 17, 2011
A Virginia man who targeted the creators of South Park for satirizing issues surrounding the depiction of the Prophet Muhammad has been sentenced to 25 years in prison for attempting to travel to Somalia and join an Al Qaeda-linked terrorist group.
On October 20, 2010, Zachary Adam Chesser (a.k.a. Abu Talhah Al-Amrikee), 20, pleaded guilty to providing material support to Al Shabaab, an Al Qaeda-linked terrorist organization based in Somalia, soliciting crimes of violence and communicating threats. He was sentenced on February 24, 2011.
Chesser, a U.S. citizen from Virginia, was arrested and charged on July 21, 2010, two weeks after he was originally apprehended as he attempted to board a plane to Uganda, en route to Somalia to join Al Shabaab. He later told federal authorities that he had also attempted to travel to Somalia several months before.
Chesser explained to authorities that he expected to receive firearms and basic training with Al Shabaab, according to the affidavit. He expected to be placed in Al Shabaab's media branch, similar to the role held by Omar Hammami, an American citizen from Alabama who has become a primary recruiter for Al Shabaab. Chesser also told officials that Al Shabaab members asked him to bring laptops and cameras, to be used for high quality film productions to bolster the terrorist group's propaganda campaign.
Prior to his arrest, Chesser admitted that he posted videos and other propaganda materials on behalf of individuals in Al Shabaab on extremist message boards, according to the affidavit.
Chesser expressed his desire to train with Al Shabaab in email communications with Anwar al-Awlaki, an American-born Muslim cleric living in Yemen who was designated by the U.S. Treasury in July 2010 for being a "key leader" in Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). Chesser also posted comments on Awlaki's blog in which he discussed the importance of fighting with the mujahideen, or Muslim warriors, overseas.
More than a year and a half before he was arrested, Chesser posted a message on Awlaki's blog that read: "Living in this world with modern technology the possibility of travel feesabililah [in the way of Allah] is virtually a non-issue for those of us in the West. There are airplanes that have made it so Washington, D.C. is closer to Somalia in our era than Makkah and Madinah were in the time of the Rasoolu Allah sal Allahu 'alayhi wa sallam [the Prophet Muhammad]." The post also encouraged others to travel to Somalia.
Chesser distributed a wide range of terrorist propaganda endorsing suicide attacks and espousing hatred against Jews, Israel and Shi'a Muslims through a variety of Web sites, blogs and social networking sites for more than a year. He also distributed original content, including a 25-page report on how to teach Western children the values of Jihad. The report, one of his more comprehensive pieces, suggested creating a "normalization of the notion of dying for the sake of Allah" in the "masaajid [mosques], the schools and the homes."
His prolific online activity received national attention shortly after he began running the Web site of Revolution Muslim (RM), a New York-based fringe anti-Semitic Muslim organization that justifies terrorist attacks and other forms of violence against non-Muslims. In April 2010, four months after he started posting to the RM site, Chesser threatened the creators of South Park for satirizing issues surrounding the depiction of the Prophet Muhammad. On another extremist Web site the following month, Chesser posted the personal contact information of individuals who joined the Facebook group "Everybody Draw Muhammad Day," which was part of a campaign that opposed Chesser's threats against the South Park creators. "Just a place to start," Chesser wrote.
Chesser's affiliation with RM went beyond its Web site. Chesser indicated that he was seeking people to help him start an RM chapter in Washington, D.C., close to his home in Virginia, and he attended an RM protest in the area. In March 2010, Chesser attended an RM protest in front of the White House, which coincided with an antiwar rally. During the protest, Chesser read a statement that called Obama "an enemy of our religion and a tyrant." Another individual at the rally, who also attended a number of other RM protests in New York, was Mohamed Mahmood Alessa. Like Chesser, Alessa was arrested and charged with planning to kill American soldiers overseas and fight with Al Shabaab.
In addition to Alessa, Chesser also claims that he knew Ramy Zamzam, an American student from Virginia who was sentenced in June to ten years in prison by Pakistan's anti-terrorism court with planning terrorist attacks in Pakistan and on Afghan and U.S. territory. "I met the brother Ramy Zamzam at a feed the homeless drive that he organized," Chesser wrote on the RM Web site after Zamzam's arrest.
Chesser, a former student at George Mason University, reportedly converted to Islam in the summer of 2008. According to one of his posts on RM's Web site, he converted at the house of a member of Hizb ut-Tahrir, an international organization that seeks to establish a worldwide Islamic theocracy. HT has an American branch that has become increasingly active over the last few years.
In November 2010, Chesser's wife, Proscovia Nzabanita, pleaded guilty to making a false statement to federal authorities. Nzabanita has also distributed propaganda and commentary on Islamic message boards and, like Chesser, has encouraged women to support their husbands' efforts to fight with the mujahideen, or Muslim warriors.