Zachary Chesser and Paul Rockwood: latest US citizens linked to al-Awlaki
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.Skip to next paragraph
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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.
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.
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?