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Mosque Leader Says Chesser Was Stubborn In Religious Beliefs

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By Jonathan Wilson

Zachary Chesser, the man from Northern Virginia charged with supporting a foreign terrorist organization, is set to make his second appearance in federal court this afternoon.

The head of the Islamic Center where Chesser once worked provided some insight into the 20-year-old past.

Muhammad Farooq is the president of the Islamic Center of Northern Virginia in Fairfax, and says Zachary Chesser was mostly quiet and friendly during his time as a caretaker there in 2009.

"I didn't see anything abnormal in him at that time," says Farooq.

But Farooq recalls that near the end of his 6 months working at the Islamic Center, Chesser, also known as Abu Talhah Al-Amrikee, showed increasing stubbornness in class at the mosque.

He says Chesser would focus on obscure verses in the Quran, sticking to his own interpretation even when his teachers pointed out how other verses contradicted his reading of the text.

"That is one reason why he also quit his job," he says, "because he realized we are trying to stay where the middle ground is."

Still, Farooq says Chesser's behavior never suggested he was capable of supporting terrorism.

Chesser faces up to 15 years in prison for allegedly trying to join the Somalia-based terror group al Shabaab as a foreign fighter.

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