- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 20, 2005

The only person charged in U.S. federal court in connection with the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, is expected to plead guilty tomorrow in Alexandria, authorities said yesterday.

The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, in which the case of Zacarias Moussaoui has been bound by pretrial wrangling for more than three years, announced the scheduling of a hearing to “accept a guilty plea” from the terror suspect.

It won’t be the first time the possibility of a guilty plea has been raised. Judge Leonie M. Brinkema held a similar hearing in July 2002, six months after Moussaoui was indicted on terrorism conspiracy charges. But Moussaoui flip-flopped at the time, quoting William Shakespeare in the packed courtroom and ultimately pleading not guilty because of an “obligation to my creator, Allah, to save and defend my life.”

“To plead guilty or not to plead guilty,” Moussaoui had said. It remains to be seen whether the same level of theatrics will be offered tomorrow.

Defense lawyers say such outbursts are evidence Moussaoui lacks the mental criteria to stand trial. During one hearing, he referred to the events of September 11 by saying that as a member of al Qaeda, he knows “who done it.” He also said undercover FBI agents participated in the attacks — one even riding on a hijacked airplane.

Judge Brinkema apparently believes in the suspect’s mental capacities. She scheduled tomorrow’s hearing only after meeting with Moussaoui to discuss the sanity issue after he wrote a letter expressing a newfound desire to plead guilty.

But sources told the Associated Press that Moussaoui has not reached a plea agreement with the government, as is customary when a defendant pleads guilty. They also said he is aware he could face death if he pleads guilty.

A French citizen of Moroccan descent, Moussaoui, 36, is charged with conspiracy to commit acts of terrorism, to commit aircraft piracy, to destroy aircraft, to use weapons of mass destruction, to murder U.S. employees and to destroy property.

Prosecutors say he would have been “the 20th hijacker” had he not been arrested on immigration violations before the attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people. He was detained in August 2001, after employees at a Minneapolis flight school reported him for wanting to learn how to fly and steer without learning takeoff and landing techniques.

The government’s case against Moussaoui ground to a halt when he began requesting interviews with high-level terror suspects in U.S. custody whom he said would exonerate him in the September 11 plot.

The Supreme Court rejected an appeal on the matter last month, upholding a ruling to allow Moussaoui access only to written correspondence with other terror detainees. The names of the men he says would exonerate him are under seal but are thought to include high-ranking al Qaeda operatives Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and Ramzi Binalshibh.

Mohammed, the suspected September 11 mastermind, has denied “ever considering Moussaoui” for the plot, according to the final report of the September 11 commission. But the report still concluded Moussaoui may have been “being primed as a possible pilot.”

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