ALEXANDRIA, Va. — A college dropout and Muslim convert who threatened the creators of the “South Park” cartoon series and then tried to join an al-Qaida-linked terror group in Somalia was sentenced Thursday to 25 years in prison.
Zachary A. Chesser, 21, of Bristow, Va., pleaded guilty last year to supporting the al-Shabab terrorist group in Somalia and posting online threats against the “South Park” creators for an episode that he perceived as insulting to the prophet Muhammad.
Chesser’s lawyer portrayed his client as a drifting teenager who latched on to activities and philosophies with a freakish intensity. Before Chesser converted to Islam, he participated in high school sports and later joined a Korean breakdancing team at his school. He spent years as a vegetarian and dabbled in Buddhism. He became so fascinated with Japanese anime that he spent four years studying Japanese and traveled to Japan on a school trip.
And, when he became infatuated during his senior year with a Muslim girl, he converted to Islam. He quickly drifted toward a radical, fundamentalist interpretation of the religion.