"South Park" Terrorist Sues Over Prayer Ban

Felon claims prison regs thwart Islam obligations

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Chesser BoP File

JANUARY 8--The would-be jihadist who was convicted of threatening the creators of “South Park” over an episode featuring the Prophet Muhammad dressed in a bear suit is suing federal prison officials for limiting his ability to "fulfill Islam’s religious obligations,” The Smoking Gun has learned.

In a civil complaint filed last month, Zachary Chesser, 25, alleges that Bureau of Prison regulations limiting religious gatherings are a violation of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, and prevent him from fully exercising his beliefs.

Chesser, a Muslim convert, contends that Islam “obligates and encourages” various congregate activities, including five daily prayers, religious classes, and celebrations. However, he notes, the BoP “only permits such activity once per week.”

Chesser is seeking a judicial order enjoining prison officials from “enforcing its policy restricting religious gatherings.” Government lawyers have yet to file an answer to Chesser’s handwritten December 22 lawsuit.

Chesser, pictured above, is locked up in the federal penitentiary in Florence, Colorado. He was transferred to the “supermax” facility in June 2014 from the penitentiary in Marion, Illinois.

Prison records show that Chesser was shipped to Florence, in part, because of his “blatant disregard and continued misconduct and refusal to adhere to institution rules.” Marion administrators concluded that his "conduct creates a risk to institutional security and good order."

Bureau of Prison memos show that Chesser, who was convicted in 2010 of terrorism charges and sentenced to 25 years in prison, was disciplined four times for participating in an unauthorized meeting or gathering. Specifically, Chesser was cited for taking part in congregational prayer with various Muslim inmates, most of whom are fellow terrorists.

For example, in November 2011, a guard spotted Chesser and six other inmates “in the education room with the lights out.” The group was being led in prayers by Mohammed Saleh, who was convicted of conspiring to bomb the United Nations and other New York City landmarks. Others praying with Saleh and Chesser included Ibrahim Elgabrowny, a Saleh codefendant; Ghassan Elashi, who was convicted in a Hamas-related terrorism financing case; and Wali Khan Amin Shah, a terrorist bomber and associate of Ramzi Yousef, who masterminded the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center.

“It shouldn’t be a rule,” Chesser wrote in response to a BoP incident report. “I say it’s wrong that it’s a rule.” In another note, the Virginia native declared that the congregational prayer ban was “ridiculous,” and an “evil, oppressive, bigoted, hillbilly kind of policy.”

In August 2013, Chesser was disciplined for assaulting a fellow inmate “over a religious issue.” In a court filing, Chesser copped to the attack, but noted that, “I deliberately did not use strikes which could seriously hurt him, and he only wound up with a minor cut and a bruise.”

In his U.S. District Court complaint, Chesser acknowledged that he and other Muslim inmates at Marion engaged in restricted group prayers, stating that “we developed a sophisticated security system to avoid detection which included lookouts, peepholes and more.”

Chesser was twice written up by Marion guards in December 2013. According to one incident report, he was cited after staff “discovered encoding papers with instructions for the cypher key to communicate in code.”

In a court declaration, Chesser referred to the “extremely onerous” conditions at Florence, which is home to “shoe bomber” Richard Reid; Yousef; assorted al-Qaeda members; and domestic terrorists like “Unabomber” Ted Kaczynski and Oklahoma City bomber Terry Nichols.

Chesser, who is also known as Abu Talhah Al-Amriki, speaks Arabic and has memorized most of the Quran, according to court papers. But he has little contact with fellow Muslim inmates at Florence, where most of the prisoners on his range are white supremacists.

Still, he has tried to communicate with his upstairs neighbor. “I speak daily with a Muslim on the floor above me through the shower drain,” Chesser wrote in his declaration. “But this is physically painful, reeks of sewage and makes it very hard to hear.”

Chesser is scheduled to be released from federal custody on June 16, 2032. (7 pages)