The LWOT: FBI arrests “Revolution Muslim” writer; Gitmo prisoner forced to return to Algeria is missing

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MICHELLE SHEPHARD/AFP/Getty Images
MICHELLE SHEPHARD/AFP/Getty Images
MICHELLE SHEPHARD/AFP/Getty Images

FBI arrests man who predicted death of South Park writers

Federal agents on July 21 arrested Zachary Chesser, better known on extremist websites as Abu Talha al-Amrikee, on charges of material support for terrorism (FBI, Washington Post, Newsweek). The affidavit filed by the FBI (available here), which had been observing Chesser for nearly two years, details  his extremist postings on websites sympathetic to jihadists, his correspondence with radical American cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, and two separate attempts to travel to Somalia to join the al Qaeda-linked al-Shabaab organization (NYT).

Chesser attempted to travel to Uganda on July 10, bringing his infant son along as "cover," but he was stopped by federal transit authorities and informed that he was on a no-fly list. He called the FBI to inform them of his attempt to join al-Shabaab on July 14, telling the agent that the July 11 bombings in Uganda, which killed more than 75 civilians who were gathered to watch the World Cup, had inspired him to have a "change of heart" about joining the group.

FBI arrests man who predicted death of South Park writers

Federal agents on July 21 arrested Zachary Chesser, better known on extremist websites as Abu Talha al-Amrikee, on charges of material support for terrorism (FBI, Washington Post, Newsweek). The affidavit filed by the FBI (available here), which had been observing Chesser for nearly two years, details  his extremist postings on websites sympathetic to jihadists, his correspondence with radical American cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, and two separate attempts to travel to Somalia to join the al Qaeda-linked al-Shabaab organization (NYT).

Chesser attempted to travel to Uganda on July 10, bringing his infant son along as "cover," but he was stopped by federal transit authorities and informed that he was on a no-fly list. He called the FBI to inform them of his attempt to join al-Shabaab on July 14, telling the agent that the July 11 bombings in Uganda, which killed more than 75 civilians who were gathered to watch the World Cup, had inspired him to have a "change of heart" about joining the group.

Chesser garnered attention in April for predicting that a South Park episode depicting Prophet Muhammad in a bear costume would lead to the killings of South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone (AP). There is little biographical information available on Chesser, though the Anti-Defamation League has compiled a collection of information on his postings, and blogger Aaron Zelin conducted an interview with Chesser two weeks before his attempted trip to Somalia (ADL, al-Maktabah).

Awlaki blacklisted by U.S. Treasury

The U.S. Treasury last Friday termed Awlaki a "key leader" of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), freezing his assets in the United States and prohibiting any dealings with the cleric (AJE, Telegraph). Awlaki, who gained notoriety for his role in inspiring English-speaking radicals such as Chesser, Omar Farouk Abdulmutallab, Maj. Nidal Malik Hassan, and Najibullah Zazi, was placed on a U.S. "hit list" six months ago.  According to Treasury Department Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence Stuart Levey, Awlaki "has involved himself in every aspect of the supply chain of terrorism — fundraising for terrorist groups, recruiting and training operatives, and planning and ordering attacks on innocents" (AFP).

Paul Rockwood, an American convert to Islam and reported adherent of Awlaki’s teachings, pleaded guilty this week of lying to FBI agents about a purported "hit list" of 15 targets he created, as well as making false statements about domestic terrorism (AP, McClatchy, NYT). His wife Nadia also pleaded guilty to the same charges. Rockwood, who never appears to have contacted Awlaki, was sentenced to eight years in prison, while his wife will serve out a five-year probation sentence in Britain, her native country (Telegraph).

Gitmo prisoner forcibly repatriated to Algeria, missing

The U.S. government forcibly repatriated Aziz Abdul Naji to Algeria on July 19, making him the first Guantánamo Bay detainee to be sent home against his will (Washington Post, AJE). His repatriation was done over the strenuous objections of human rights organizations (HRW) Naji is one of two Algerians whose motions to halt their repatriation were ignored by the Supreme Court last Friday. There are currently six Algerians at Gitmo who said last week that they did not want to return to Algeria (Miami Herald).

Naji had previously expressed fears of ill-treatment at the hands of the Algerian government and Islamist groups; the government has in the past detained former Guantanamo Bay detainees upon release, and has been known to use extreme measures against prisoners. Naji’s family and attorneys expressed concern July 21 that they had been unable to contact or even locate Naji, but the Algerian government denied detaining him (Reuters, Reuters). A Syrian detainee was transferred alongside Naji, but was sent to Cape Verde.

Dual decisions on Gitmo detainees took place this week, as Federal Judge Henry R. Kennedy, Jr. instructed Barack Obama’s administration to free Adnan Farhan Abdul Latif, a Yemeni detainee who has spent extensive time in Gitmo’s psychological ward, while another judge affirmed the government’s right to detain the Yemeni Abdul-Rahman Sulayman (Miami Herald). And on July 22 the government transferred two unidentified detainees to Spain and Latvia, dropping the number of detainees still held at the prison to 176 (Reuters). And two former inmates accepted by Germany will undergo "psychological evaluation and temporary confinement" when they arrive (Deutsche Welle).

Representatives from the Miami Herald, Associated Press, New York Times, and other organizations will also meet with the Pentagon to push for a loosening of restrictions on media personnel covering Gitmo (NYT).

Trials and Tribulations

  • Testifying in his own defense against charges that he plotted to attack New York City’s JFK Airport, Abdul Kadir, a former government official in Guyana, denied any intention to commit terrorist attacks. He said he feigned interest in the plot in order to get money to build a mosque in Guyana (NYT). Kadir also disputed allegations that he had spied for Iran (NYT, AP). Last week the court heard tapes of Kadir’s co-defendant Russel Defreitas boasting about the attack to a government informant (NYT).
  • After firing his military attorney last week, Canadian Gitmo detainee Omar Khadr agreed to his reinstatement this week, in preparation for his August 10 trial date (Globe and Mail).
  • Three European judges in Kosovo this week refused to extradite a Kosovar, Bajram Asllani, to face terrorism charges in North Carolina (NYT).
  • Tarek Mehanna, who was charged last month with seeking to provide material support to al Qaeda, pleaded not guilty in a Boston court on July 21 (AP). He already stands charged of plotting to attack shopping malls in the United States, fight U.S. troops in Iraq, and assassinate U.S. politicians.
  • Omar Deghayes, a former Gitmo detainee currently suing the British government for complicity in his mistreatment, alleged this week that transcripts of his meetings with British intelligence operatives had been edited in an effort to remove material that would prove embarrassing to British officials, and exculpatory of himself (Guardian).

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