- The Washington Times - Monday, March 6, 2006

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Opening its argument that Zacarias Moussaoui be executed, the government asserted yesterday that he “did his part as a loyal al Qaeda soldier” and caused the deaths of nearly 3,000 people by failing to tell what he knew of the September 11, 2001, attacks.

Moussaoui’s defense countered that his dreams of being a terrorist were far removed from anything he could do, and that he had no part in the attacks.

“That is Zacarias Moussaoui in a nutshell,” said his court-appointed attorney, Edward MacMahon. “Sound and fury signifying nothing.”

As Moussaoui stroked his beard in the Alexandria courthouse and families of September 11 victims watched on closed-circuit television in four other states, prosecutor Rob Spencer evoked the horror of that day and laid blame on the only man charged in the attacks.

“He lied so the plot could proceed unimpeded,” Mr. Spencer asserted. “With that lie, he caused the deaths of nearly 3,000 people. He rejoiced in the death and destruction.”

He went on: “Had Mr. Moussaoui just told the truth, it would all have been different.”

A schoolteacher, a veteran of the 1991 Gulf War and an Iranian-born Sunni Muslim woman are among the jurors who will decide whether Moussaoui is put to death or imprisoned for life. The trial is being shown via closed-circuit television at federal courthouses in New York City, Boston, Central Islip, N.Y., Newark, N.J., and Philadelphia.

U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema impaneled 18 jurors and alternates in 90 minutes. One who appeared upset at being chosen was excused, meaning the trial will proceed with 12 jurors and five alternates instead of six.

Moussaoui, a 37-year-old French citizen, has acknowledged his loyalty to the al Qaeda terrorist network and his intent to commit acts of terrorism, but denies any prior knowledge of the September 11 plot.

Moussaoui pleaded guilty in April to conspiring with al Qaeda to hijack planes and commit other crimes. The trial will determine his punishment, and only two options are available: death or life in prison.

In his opening statement, Mr. MacMahon appealed to jurors to judge his client fairly, not “as a substitute for Osama bin Laden.”

He scoffed at the idea Moussaoui had any part in the plot. “Moussaoui certainly wasn’t sent over here to tell a lie, ladies and gentlemen.”

Frequently ejected from the courtroom earlier because of his outbursts against his court-appointed attorneys, Moussaoui sat quietly through the opening of his trial, gazing often at the jurors or the gallery.

At the end of the morning hearing, he spoke to one member of his defense team: “Just to let you know, you’re not my lawyer, thanks a lot.”

His mother, Aicha el-Wafi, spoke up for her son in a CNN interview. “All they can have against him is the things that he said, the words that he has used,” she said, “but actual acts that he committed, there aren’t any.”

D. Hamilton Peterson of Bethesda, who lost his father, Donald, and stepmother, Jean, on hijacked United Airlines Flight 93, which crashed in Pennsylvania, declared, “I want accountability.”

“I believe Moussaoui is an excellent candidate for the death penalty,” he said outside the courtroom. “He is nothing less than a mass murderer.”

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