A 2008 Oakton High School graduate was arrested last week on charges that he provided support to a foreign terrorist organization.
Zachary Adam Chesser, 20, whose last known residence was in Fairfax, was arrested for allegedly aiding Al-Shabaab, a known foreign terrorist organization which the FBI calls "a violent and brutal extremist group with a number of individuals affiliated with al-Qaida."
It was widely reported in April that Chesser issued an online warning to the creators of the cartoon television show "South Park" after the show mockingly portrayed the Islamic prophet Muhammad in one of its episodes. Islamic law prohibits any depiction of the prophet.
At Oakton High School, Chesser played football and basketball and was part of the school's crew team.
He also displayed a knack for becoming the center of attention as the standout member of an otherwise ethnically dominant group.
"As the only Caucasian member of the break-dancing club, senior Zac Chesser was not intimidated by being the only non-Asian," a yearbook profile said of Chesser.
After high school, Chesser attended George Mason University for one semester in 2008 before dropping out.
According to an affidavit filed in federal court, Chesser married Proscovia Nzabanita in 2009 and they had a son. He worked briefly as a caretaker at the Islamic Center of Northern Virginia on Shirley Gate Road in Fairfax. Federal court records state Chesser became fascinated with the radical teachings of Anwar Aulaqi, who formerly was an Imam at the Dar al-Hijra mosque in Falls Church.
Aulaqi is known for his controversial statements, and counterterrorism officials have studied his relationship to al-Qaida, some of the Sept. 11, 2001, hijackers and Nidal Malik Hasan, the suspected gunman in the Ft. Hood, Texas, shootings that killed 13 people and wounded 43 others in November.
In court records, Chesser allegedly admitted to FBI agents he became interested in Islam in July 2008, and became very "extremist" in his beliefs.
He allegedly told agents he owned and operated a YouTube.com website called LearnTeachFightDie under the pseudonym Abu Talhah Al-Amrikee and also allegedly said he owned and operated a blog and website called the mujhidblog.com.
Court records state Chesser wrote e-mail messages to Aulaqi and received responses on more than one occasion. Records also say Chesser admitted to posting jihad propaganda, and that "he wanted the U.S. to fail in its overseas military efforts," acknowledging its failure "would require many deaths." A sworn federal FBI affidavit claims Chesser admitted to federal agents he attempted on two occasions to travel to Somalia to join Al-Shabaab as a foreign fighter.
He was prevented from boarding a flight from New York to Uganda on July 10. Chesser allegedly admitted to agents he intended to travel from Uganda to Somalia, where Al-Shabaab is based.
Chesser had attempted to board the plane with his infant son, and court records allege he brought his son with him as part of his "cover" to avoid detection of his intention to join the terrorist organization.
He also allegedly said while undergoing questioning that he originally had intended to travel to Somalia in November 2009, but had later changed his mind.
"This case exposes the disturbing reality that extreme radicalization can happen anywhere, including Northern Virginia," U.S. Attorney MacBride said in a statement. "This young man is accused of seeking to join Al-Shabaab, a brutal terrorist organization with ties to al-Qaida. These allegations underscore the need for continued vigilance against homegrown terror threats."
On Thursday in U.S. District Court, Chesser was appointed an attorney from the federal public defender's office. That attorney, Michael Nachmanoff, confirmed Chesser will remain in federal custody until his upcoming trial.