ALEXANDRIA, Va. — A Virginia man pleaded guilty yesterday to supporting an Al Qaeda-linked terrorist group in Somalia and posting online threats to the creators of “South Park’’ for what he perceived as insults to the prophet Muhammad.
Zachary A. Chesser, 20, of Bristow, Va., is expected to receive at least 20 years in prison at his February sentencing.
Chesser struck a plea bargain in US District Court, admitting that he tried twice to travel to Somalia in the last year to join the al-Shabab terror network and engage in holy war. He was thwarted the first time because his mother-in-law would not relinquish the passport of his wife, who was to travel with him.
His second attempt failed because he had been placed on the no-fly list.
He also admitted posting online propaganda on behalf of al-Shabab. Chesser posted speeches by radical cleric Anwar al-Awlaki that said killing those who insult Muhammad was justified. Awlaki, who praised the shootings last year at Fort Hood in which 13 people were killed, has been designated a terrorist by the US government.
Chesser said little during a 30-minute plea hearing. He wore a green prison jumpsuit and was shorn of the long beard he wore in online videos in which he appeared under the name Abu Talhah Al-Amrikee, which designates his American heritage.
His lawyer, federal public defender Michael Nachmanoff, said Chesser is “deeply remorseful’’ for his actions.
“Mr. Chesser has renounced violent jihad and he’s accepted responsibility,’’ Nachmanoff said.
Indeed, before Chesser was arrested, he met with the FBI and told them that while he had intended to join al-Shabab, he changed his views when al-Shabab claimed responsibility for a July 11 bombing in his wife’s home country of Uganda that killed more than 75 people watching soccer’s World Cup.
Chesser also pleaded guilty to communicating threats to the creators of the cartoon “South Park,’’ Trey Parker and Matt Stone. Upset about an episode in which a character in bear costume was linked to Muhammad, Chesser posted Internet messages calling for death to those who defamed the prophet.