Sunday, April 09, 2006

Briefing: why Moussaoui confession doesn't add up

Daniel McGrory,a Times expert on al-Qaeda, examines the inconsistencies behind Zacarias Moussaoui's confession that he was part of the 9/11 plot

"From the start of the hearing to decide whether he should be executed or spend the rest of his life in jail, Zacarias Moussaoui made it clear he regarded the proceedings as a joke. He mocked the judge, shouted obscenities at the jury and has repeatedly shown his contempt for the court, saying he only recognises Islamic law.

"His exasperated defence lawyer, Gerald Zerkin, admits he has no idea what his client is going to say or do next as he has no control over the former London university student.

"Asked why he signed a guilty plea as "the twentieth hijacker", Moussaoui smirked and said: 'Because everybody used to refer to me as the 20th hijacker and it was a bit of fun.'

"Prosecutors have no interest in demolishing Moussaoui’s extraordinary confession as the self- proclaimed al-Qaeda terrorist seems to have done their job for them. It does not appear to matter to them that Moussaoui’s testimony contradicts their own evidence.

"The CIA has in custody the man who orchestrated the attacks on the World Trade Center, and he has told his interrogators that Moussaoui was not part of any 9/11 cell. That handpicked team came from similar backgrounds and bore little resemblance to the Frenchman of Morrocan descent who was too indisciplined to be trusted on such a crucial mission.

"Al-Qaeda did pay for him to take flying lessons in America, as they did for dozens of others, but, unlike the pilots recruited for 9/11, Moussaoui proved incompetent. He not only raised suspicions by refusing to be taught the basics of how to take off or land a Boeing 747, but in the flight simulator he couldn’t even steer straight and instructors told the truculent Moussaoui that he was wasting his money.

"Defence lawyers argue he has repeatedly changed his story about his supposed role in a deliberate attempt to confuse US authorities.

"First he claimed he was to be used in a plot to free a blind Egyptian cleric, Sheikh Omar Abdel-Rahman, jailed in the US in 1996 for an earlier attempt to blow up the World Trade Centre. Moussaoui told how he was to pilot a plane carrying the freed sheikh to Afghanistan.

"Then he changed his mind and said that he was to take part in a second wave of aerial attacks in the US. He did not give a date, but claimed he was to crash his aircraft into the White House.

"The question to be asked about his latest confession is, why would he implicate Richard Reid, his friend from their days at Finsbury Park mosque? Both men were at training camps in Afghanistan at the same time but, as evidence has shown, Reid, and another young Briton, Saajid Badat, were being groomed for an entirely different role.

"FBI agents are expected to question Reid, who is already serving an 80-year jail sentence for trying to detonate a shoe bomb on an American Airlines flight from Paris to Miami in December 2001.

"Investigators know that Reid’s path never crossed that of the 9/11 cell. Before he was ordered to carry a bomb onto a plane, Reid had other uses for al-Qaeda. Using his British passport, he was sent on reconnaissance missions across Europe and the Middle East at the time the 9/11 hijackers were finalising their plans.

"In July 2001 he was in Amsterdam obtaining a new passport from the British Consulate, claiming that he had ruined his original document by leaving it in his trouser pocket which he stuffed into a washing machine.

"He then flew to Israel, Egypt and Turkey, scouting possible targets for attack.

"His travel diary was later discovered by FBI agents at an al-Qaeda safe house in Kabul after the US led invasion of Afghanistan. There is no mention of anything remotely connected to 9/11.

"On August 9, 2001 Reid returned to Amsterdam where he linked up with other al-Qaeda activists who have since been jailed for plotting bomb attacks in Europe. In November Reid was back in Pakistan with Badat to be shown how to detonate their shoe bomb.

"On December 5, Reid went to Paris to get yet another passport, using the same stunt as before. At his trial he freely admitted what his mission was to be, adding he was "a soldier for al-Qaeda".

"Those who remember Moussaoui from his loudmouth displays at London mosques, and who trained with him in Afghanistan, describe him as a man who enjoyed exaggerating his own importance. He claimed to be a particular favourite of Osama bin Laden, which none of the al-Qaeda captives verify.

"He liked the idea that London had provided al-Qaeda with a small army of would-be suicide bombers, and that he would be the first to die. He continually boasted about wanting to be a martyr for al-Qaeda.

"After his testimony yesterday he may yet get his wish."


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