By Tim Lister, with reporting from Paul Cruickshank
One of the leading figures in a radical Islamist group based in New York has been sentenced to more than 11 years in prison after pleading guilty to using the organization's Internet sites to conspire to solicit murder and other offenses.
Jesse Curtis Morton, 33, aka Younus Abdullah Muhammad, was co-founder of the group Revolution Muslim, which was supportive of al Qaeda's philosophy. The group was the focus of a series of investigative reports by CNN in 2009.
Morton pleaded guilty in February. After the sentence, U.S. Attorney Neil MacBride said that "Jesse Morton sought to inspire Muslims to engage in terrorism by providing doctrinal justification for violence against civilians in the name of Islam. The string of recent cases with ties to Mr. Morton demonstrates that he was very successful."
Revolution Muslim's websites encouraged violence against those they believed to be enemies of Islam and voiced support for Osama bin Laden and militant preacher Anwar al-Awlaki. They posted messages in support of the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, the November 2009 killings at Fort Hood, and attacks and threats against Jewish organizations.
Morton conspired with Zachary Chesser and others to solicit the death of an artist tied to the Everybody Draw Mohammed Day movement in May 2010. In justifying these actions, Morton posted online a speech of his asserting that "Islam's position is that those that insult the Prophet may be killed" and exhorting his listeners to fight the "disbelievers near you."
Morton admitted helping Chesser encourage attacks against the writers of the "South Park" TV cartoon series after an episode featured the Prophet Mohammed in a bear suit. They also posted online speeches by al-Awlaki, who justified the killing of those alleged to have insulted or defamed Mohammed.
Chesser was arrested in July 2010 and charged with providing material support to the Somalian group Al-Shabaab. He was sentenced to 25 years in prison. Four days after Chesser's arrest, Morton fled to Morocco, where he lived until his arrest and deportation on U.S. charges in May 2011.
A series of terrorism cases in the United States has revealed links between the accused and Revolution Muslim. One U.S. counterterrorism official described the group as the "top catalyst for radicalization for violence in the United States."
Morton also knew Samir Khan, who left the United States and joined al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. He was editor of the group's influential English-language Inspire magazine until he was killed in September along with al-Awlaki in a U.S. drone strike.
Khan knew Morton from his days living in New York and invited him to contribute to a radical blog he was producing in North Carolina called Jihad Recollections before traveling to join al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula in October 2009.
Rezwan Ferdaus, a U.S. citizen from Ashland, Massachusetts, who was charged with planning to use model aircraft filled with C-4 plastic explosives in an attack against targets in Washington in September, was also in touch with Morton, according to the official.
Ferdaus asked Morton about the Islamic justification of suicide bombings. Morton replied that what was key was the intention behind them and that they were an enormous benefit in a war of attrition.
Ferdaus has pleaded not guilty to the plot.
Jose Pimentel, a Bronx resident who in November was arrested and charged with plotting to detonate pipe bombs in New York, was in touch with Morton via e-mail before he was arrested, according to the official. Pimentel has also pleaded not guilty.
Morton's group was connected online to several others who have admitted to or been charged in connection with terrorist offenses. Colleen LaRose, an American woman who pleaded guilty last year to conspiring to assassinate a Swedish cartoonist in 2009, was a subscriber to Revolution Muslim's website.
Abdel Hameed Shehadeh, arrested in Hawaii in October 2010 and charged with making false statements in a matter involving international terrorism, attended Revolution Muslim meetings and made his website a feeder for Revolution Muslim's, according to the official. Shehadeh, who authorities alleged attempted to travel to fight jihad overseas, pleaded not guilty.
Morton also had a web of international connections, according to officials.
He was in touch with Mohammed Chowdhury, the ringleader of a plot to blow up the London stock exchange and other London targets in December 2010, they say. Chowdhury was convicted and sentenced to 13 years in prison in February.
When Morton moved to Morocco, he asked Chowdhury to take over the running of the Revolution Muslim website, according to a senior counterterrorism official.
In a CNN interview in 2009, Morton defended the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and argued that further attacks on Americans were justified.
However, he said he did not encourage violence on U.S. soil.