WASHINGTON – A US man was Thursday sentenced to 25 years in prison on terror charges, including threatening the creators of the animated series “South Park” for portraying the Prophet Mohammed in a bear suit.
Zachary Adam Chesser, 21, who grew up in the Virginia suburbs of Washington, had pleaded guilty in October to providing material support to a terror group and inciting violence against the South Park creators.
“Zachary Chesser will spend 25 years in prison for advocating the murder of US citizens for engaging in free speech about his religion,” said US Attorney Neil MacBride.
“His actions caused people throughout the country to fear speaking out — even in jest — to avoid being labeled as enemies who deserved to be killed.”
In his plea, Chesser admitted encouraging violent jihadists to attack the writers of South Park, among other targets.
He wrote on an extremist website that creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker risked the same fate as slain Dutch filmmaker Theo Van Gogh, who was murdered by a Muslim extremist in Amsterdam in 2004.
He also posted speeches by Anwar al-Awlaki which explained the Islamic justification for killing those who insult or defame Mohammed.
Al-Awlaki, a US citizen who lives in Yemen, has been targeted for killing by US forces as a global terrorist.
Chesser also pleaded guilty to attempting to provide material support to the Shebab, a Somalia-based group dubbed by the US State Department as a terror organization affiliated with Al-Qaeda.
Chesser admitted that he twice tried to travel to Somalia to join Al-Shabaab. In July, he was arrested while trying to leave for the second time, bringing his infant son as “cover.”
He also advocated placing suspicious-looking but innocent packages in public places in an effort to “desensitize law enforcement” about a potential explosive device, according to the Justice Department. Once police were used to seeing the benign packages, real ones could detonated.
Prosecutors echoed recent officials who have warned that the United States faces a threat from homegrown extremists who are inspired by Al-Qaeda and are increasingly difficult to detect.
FBI director Robert Mueller has described a shift in Al-Qaeda’s recruitment strategy, saying that since 2006, the network has focused on US citizens or legal residents instead of volunteers from the Middle East or South Asia.
“In admitting his guilt today, Mr Chesser reminded us of the serious threat homegrown jihadists pose to this country,” MacBride said.