- The Washington Times - Monday, April 17, 2006

ASSOCIATED PRESS

After an impoverished childhood afflicted by a violent, alcoholic father, September 11 conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui embraced radical Islam as a young adult when anti-Arab racism and his background thwarted his desire to become an international businessman, defense witnesses testified yesterday.

Struggling to save Moussaoui from execution, court-appointed defense lawyers called a clinical social worker, Moussaoui’s high school friends and his older sisters to try to offset his second damaging appearance on the witness stand last week. Clinical social worker Jan Vogelsang testified that it was not her purpose to make excuses for Moussaoui’s actions, but to understand how he reached that point.

They described a boy who witnessed violence at home and endured five stints in orphanages by age 6, frequent moves and deep poverty but nevertheless became an engaging and fun-loving teenager known for his smile and his ambition.

His Moroccan ancestry and lack of family financial backing, however, helped block his ambitions, first in France and then in London. He withdrew from family and friends in 1995, gained weight, shaved his head and took up radical Islam, these witnesses said.

But leaving court for a break after the judge and jury had gone, Moussaoui said loudly, “It’s a lot of American B.S.”

Though slumped in his chair, even Moussaoui could not take his eyes off most of the videotaped testimony, taken in France in December, from his sister Jamilla, who described her younger brother as “a pretty little baby, always smiling. … He was the little sweetheart of the family.”

But she also described the abusive atmosphere caused by their father, Omar, who repeatedly beat his wife, Aicha, and Miss Moussaoui.

“He almost killed me; he tried to kill me,” she said. When her mother had money for food, “he ate everything and left us nothing.”

Miss Vogelsang said Mrs. Moussaoui provided little supervision and no religious training. The family celebrated Christian and Islamic holidays because the mother wanted her children to integrate into French culture, the clinical social worker said. As a teenager, Moussaoui was rejected as a “dirty Arab” by the family of his longtime girlfriend, Miss Vogelsang said.

On cross-examination, prosecutor David Novak tried to undercut the tone of inevitability that Miss Vogelsang had struck. He got her to acknowledge that Moussaoui’s older brother, Abd Samad Moussaoui, emerged from the same family to become an engineering teacher rather than a terrorist.

Two high-school buddies from France, Fabrice Guillen in court and Christophe Marguel on videotape, testified how much Moussaoui liked to have fun, party and play sports. Mr. Guillen said Moussaoui’s hero was Martin Luther King.

Both said he encountered racism in France, being barred from clubs because of his being an Arab, Mr. Guillen said.

“He said it wasn’t a big deal … but we all knew it bothered him,” he said.

Gilles Cohen, who met the then-18-year-old Moussaoui in 1986, said they became good friends and that his family even put Moussaoui and his brother up for several months in 1990 when they left their mother’s home in a dispute over their desire to use all their finances for education.

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