Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Zachary Chesser and Paul Rockwood: Latest US Citizens Linked to Al- Awlaki

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Zachary Chesser and Paul Rockwood: Latest US Citizens Linked to Al- Awlaki

Article excerpt

Zachary Chesser and Paul Rockwood are two American Muslims charged with plotting to commit acts of violent jihad. Both had alleged connections with Anwar al-Awlaki, the radical cleric in Yemen who may have motivated November's Fort Hood rampage.

Federal prosecutors this week announced two different terrorism cases involving American citizens who converted to Islam and were allegedly plotting acts of violent jihad.

In one case, a Virginia man was charged with trying to travel to Somalia to join forces with Al Shabab, an Al Qaeda-linked Islamist militant group that the US has designated a terrorist organization.

In the second, Alaska resident Paul Rockwood pleaded guilty to assembling a hit list of 15 targets for assassination or bomb attacks of those within the US who had desecrated Islam. He has agreed to serve an eight-year prison sentence.

In Virginia, Zachary Chesser, a former George Mason University student, has been charged with providing material support to the Somali-based terror group he reportedly sought to join.

The cases share a common denominator: Both men appear to have had contact with US-born militant cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, who is believed to be in a remote part of Yemen and head of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. His speeches and sermons circulate internationally via a network of militant Islamic websites and blogs.

Officials suspect Mr. Awlaki was a motivating force behind the shooting rampage in November by Maj. Nidal Hasan at Fort Hood, Texas. The attack left 13 US service members dead.

Awlaki is also believed to have played a role in preparing Nigerian Umar Abdulmutallab for his attempt to blow up a jetliner near Detroit on Christmas Day. Last week, Awlaki was named by the US Treasury Department as a "specially designed global terrorist."

While these actions and investigations suggest US officials remain vigilant against home-grown threats from militant Islam, they do not address a more fundamental question: What would cause a life- long American to apparently choose the radical Islamic side in the US battle against Al Qaeda?

Mr. Rockwell's plea agreement says that while residing in Virginia he converted to Islam and became a "strict adherent to the violent Jihad-promoting ideology of cleric [Awlaki]. …

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