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U.S. militants jailed for Internet threats are still posting from prison

American Islamist militants jailed for threatening violence over the Internet are still posting political writings on the Web - while serving time in federal prison. (Reuters)
American Islamist militants jailed for threatening violence over the Internet are still posting political writings on the Web - while serving time in federal prison. (Reuters)

By Mark Hosenball

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - American Islamist militants jailed for threatening violence over the Internet are still posting political writings on the Web - while serving time in federal prison.

Jesse Curtis Morton, a convert to Islam who writes under the name Younus Abdullah Muhammed, posted a lengthy tract opposing U.S. drone policy, on May 21, on the www.islampolicy.com website that he launched in 2010.

Morton is serving a prison term of more than 11 years in a Pennsylvania federal prison after pleading guilty in 2012 to conspiring to solicit murder, make threatening communications and "use the Internet to place others in fear."

Morton, from Brooklyn, New York, and previously a student at Columbia University, was jailed for threatening the writers of the satirical television show "South Park" for their depiction of the Prophet Mohammed in a bear outfit.

Morton wrote in his latest essay that U.S. use of lethal drones against al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Yemen had encouraged homegrown Islamist extremism.

"The drone assassination of Anwar Awlaki in Yemen, an Islamic preacher with tens of thousands of ardent Western followers, has yet to be avenged but his popularity has only risen after death," Morton wrote, referring to the American Muslim preacher killed in a 2011 U.S. drone strike in Yemen.

Another American militant, Zachary Chesser, who was found guilty of conspiring with Morton to encourage attacks via the Internet on the creators of "South Park," has also posted material while in prison. His postings appear on another website www.aseerun.org and mainly air personal grievances, along with some political material.

Chesser is serving a 25-year prison sentence in Marion, Illinois, for the "South Park" case and for attempting to join the Somali militant group al Shabaab.

Neither Morton nor other representatives of IslamPolicy responded to a request for comment sent to an email address posted on the website. A telephone number posted on the site was out of order.

Lawyers for Morton and Chesser did not respond to requests for comment.

Under free-speech guarantees in the U.S. Constitution, federal authorities cannot impose blanket bans on such postings by convicts, although email access is limited for prisoners, and messages inciting violence are prohibited.

Morton and Chesser were involved in running the now defunct website RevolutionMuslim.blogspot.com.

That was linked to a U.S. affiliate of banned British group Al Muhajiroun, whose followers have included a man arrested for the brutal killing of a British soldier in London last week.

Since federal prisoners are allowed to transmit closely vetted email messages via special channels only to a small list of approved recipients, it is possible that messages and essays by prisoners such Morton and Chesser first went to some of those recipients, who then arranged for posting on the Internet.

PROTECTED SPEECH

Officials said they did not know precisely how Morton and Chesser arranged for the posting of their messages.

"Their communications with the outside are limited to approved contacts only and subject to careful monitoring and review to ensure that they do not facilitate criminal activity or pose a threat to the public or the correctional facility," said Dean Boyd, a Justice Department spokesman.

"While we may disagree with some opinions expressed by inmates in their limited communications to approved contacts outside prison, we may not prosecute individuals for speech protected under the First Amendment," Boyd said.

U.S. law enforcement sources said authorities would likely move quickly against Morton if Internet materials posted while he is in prison directly encouraged violence.

Morton apologized after his sentencing in 2012 and his most recent writings are not extremist by Islamist militant standards. They are mostly musings on the role of Islam in Middle Eastern political life.

A senior U.S. law enforcement official said Morton's current website was still important among U.S. militants, although Morton had toned down his writings.

Older material still accessible on the site includes communiques from Afghanistan's Taliban group, videos promoting the views of Abdullah al Faisal, a Jamaican imam who was jailed by British authorities in 2003 for soliciting the murder of Jews and Hindus, and exhortations including, "No peace with the Jews!"

"It is surprising and ironic that two individuals, whose extensive online activity influenced and inspired a wide network of would-be jihadists, are still able to reach those audiences from prison," said Oren Segal, director of the Center on Extremism at the Anti-Defamation League.

(This story has been refiled to correct spelling of last name to Segal in final paragraph)

(Editing by Alistair Bell, Peter Cooney and Eric Walsh)

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