Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Moussaoui had no 9/11 role, says al-Qaeda man

Alexandria, Virginia - Zacarias Moussaoui refused to follow instructions from al-Qaeda superiors, pestered them with cell phone calls and otherwise breached the terrorist outfit's way of operating, according to testimony Tuesday in his death penalty trial.

A captured al-Qaeda official, considered the mastermind of the suicide attack on the warship USS Cole and an early planner of the September 11, 2001, plot, said in a statement that he did not know of any role for Moussaoui in the attacks.

The assertion was from Waleed bin Attash, often known simply as Khallad. Moussaoui's lawyers are presenting statements from a series of al-Qaeda operatives in custody, including the chief organiser of the September 11 attacks, to show Moussaoui was not part of that plot.

Moussaoui himself stunned the courtroom Monday by claiming he was to supposed to have been the fifth pilot of a hijacked plane in the September 11 attacks and that his target would have been the White House. He testified against his lawyers' wishes.

Khallad portrayed Moussaoui, a French citizen, as something of a loose cannon during a trip to Malaysia in 2000, where he met members of a radical group affiliated with al-Qaeda. Khallad said Moussaoui breached security measures and al-Qaeda protocol.

For example, he called Khallad daily, despite instructions to call only in an emergency, to the point where Khallad turned his cell phone off.

Moussaoui's testimony that he was part of the September 11 plot along with shoe-bomber Richard Reid flew in the face of his previous denials that he had any role in the September 11 attacks that killed nearly 3 000 people.

As soon as Moussaoui finished testifying, the jury was read statements from Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, who said Moussaoui was to have been used in a second wave of attacks completely disconnected from September 11 when hijackers crashed passenger jetliners into New York's World Trade Centre, the Pentagon and a field in Pennsylvania. Mohammed is in custody abroad in undisclosed circumstances, having been interrogated but not yet charged.

Because Moussaoui has already pleaded guilty to conspiracy charges, the jury must only determine his sentence: death or life in prison. To obtain the death penalty, prosecutors must prove that Moussaoui's actions resulted in at least one death on September 11.

Even prosecutors are not alleging a direct role for Moussaoui in the September 11 plot. Instead, they argue that Moussaoui allowed the September 11 plot to go forward by lying about his al-Qaeda membership and his true plans when federal agents arrested him in August 2001.

Moussaoui repeatedly had denied involvement in September 11, and when he admitted guilt in April 2005 to conspiring with al-Qaeda to hijack aircraft and commit other crimes, he pointedly made a distinction between his conspiracy and September 11.

On Monday, though, Moussaoui put himself at the centre of the plot. He was asked by defence attorney Gerald Zerkin: "Before your arrest, were you scheduled to pilot a plane as part of the 9/11
operation?"

Moussaoui: "Yes. I was supposed to pilot a plane to hit the White House."

He said he knew few other details, except that planes also were to be flown into the twin towers of the World Trade Centre.

He had met Reid, his purported partner, in the 1990s at London's Finsbury Park mosque, a haven for Islamic fundamentalists.

On December 22, 2001, Reid was subdued by passengers on a flight from Paris to Miami when he tried to detonate a bomb in his shoe. That plane landed safely in Boston. Reid later pleaded guilty and was sentenced to life in prison.

Moussaoui's defence attorneys, in their opening arguments, suggested Moussaoui may prefer execution, which he would see as martyrdom, to life in prison. He isn't cooperating with his court-appointed attorneys and testified against their wishes.

Mohammed's testimony came in the form of a 58-page statement culled from government interrogations. He said repeatedly that Moussaoui was to be part of a second wave of attacks, distinct from September 11.

He was said to have wanted to use only Middle Easterners for Sept. 11 so that Europeans like Moussaoui would stand a better chance of mounting a subsequent attack after security was increased.

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