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Judge orders Fairfax terror suspect to remain in jail until his trial

By Spencer S. Hsu
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, July 27, 2010; B05

A Fairfax man accused of trying to join an al-Qaeda-affiliated terrorist group in Somalia poses a danger to the community and his family and will remain in jail until trial, U.S. Magistrate Judge Ivan D. Davis ordered Monday.

Zachary A. Chesser, 20, dressed in a green prison jumpsuit for a half-hour hearing, argued through his attorney, Michael Nachmanoff, that he had no criminal history, had met with FBI agents at least four times since May 2009, had given up his U.S. passport and was no more a threat to flee than after those meetings.

But Davis ruled that did not justify his release given the seriousness of the charge against him: providing material support to a U.S.-designated terrorist group, al-Shabab, a violent Islamist insurgency seeking to topple Somalia's fragile United Nations-supported government.

The judge, ruling in U.S. District Court in Alexandria, cited Chesser's alleged statements to the FBI that he was "willing to die for Islam" and twice tried to travel to Somalia to join al-Shabab as a "foreign fighter." One of those included a July 10 attempt in which Chesser was stopped along with his 7-month-old son from boarding at New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport because he is on a federal no-fly list.

"An individual who has no concern for his own life probably has little concern for the lives of others," Davis said. "It's all right if he wants to put his life in danger, but if he's not going to look out for his 7-month-old son, then this court is going to do so."

Prosecutor John Gibbs also cited Internet posts by Chesser that advocated fighting religious disbelievers, e-mail communications with radical Yemeni cleric Anwar al-Aulaqi and an April online warning to the creators of the "South Park" animated satire, Matt Stone and Trey Parker, that they could face assassination for irreverently depicting the prophet Muhammed.

Gibbs added another detail, saying that after Chesser had allegedly told the FBI that he intended to join al-Shabab and found out he was on a no-fly list, he offered in a July 21 meeting to help the FBI as an informant -- on condition that he be allowed to travel to Somalia.

Prosecutors formally entered into the case an FBI affidavit filed to obtain search warrants for Chesser's apartment and car Wednesday, the day he was arrested, that was disclosed last week. The FBI reported that Chesser told an agent that he could be considered one of the most influential members "in the Jihadi community" in the Washington area.

The FBI alleged that Chesser also posted the U.S. Army Ranger Handbook and the Transportation Security Administration's standard operational practices for airport screening, and encouraged conducting "fake operations" such as leaving bags that appear to be suspicious packages in public places to "desensitize" federal agents.

Prosecutors also filed notice that they intend to submit evidence gleaned from searches and electronic surveillance conducted under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

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