- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 7, 2006

Prosecutors in Zacarias Moussaoui’s death penalty trial yesterday sought to show his lies are standard operating procedure for al Qaeda, presenting evidence that members of the terrorist group are scripted carefully to deceive when caught.

Michael Anticev, an FBI agent testifying for a second day in U.S. District Court in Alexandria, offered the jury a primer on al Qaeda cover stories and the organization’s techniques of deception when cell members are questioned.

Defense attorney Edward MacMahon got Mr. Anticev to acknowledge on cross-examination that the FBI was aware years before the attacks on September 11, 2001, that al Qaeda had plans to fly airplanes into prominent buildings.

Moussaoui’s attorneys are portraying him as a pathetic loner who dreamed of becoming a terrorist, but was shut out of the planning of the September 11 attacks because he was considered by one al Qaeda leader to be “cuckoo in the head.”

The defense also wants to show that the government knew far more about brewing al Qaeda plots than Moussaoui did, and in that vein pressed Mr. Anticev on what the FBI was doing to follow up on warning signals before the attacks.

Mr. Anticev at first asserted, “I don’t think anybody was looking at using aircraft as weapons,” but acknowledged under questioning that the FBI had been aware before the attacks of al Qaeda plans to fly airliners into the Eiffel Tower and into a cathedral in Strasbourg, France.

He said he also knew that an al Qaeda operative arrested in the Philippines in 1995 said terrorists had planned to fly a plane into CIA headquarters, but Mr. Anticev said he personally did not hear that until after the September 11 attacks.

Mr. Anticev read excerpts from an al Qaeda training manual that included instructions on coded communications and how to develop a cover story if detained.

The manual said members should be prepared to answer questions about how they obtained their travel money, whether they belong to religious organizations and more.

When Moussaoui was arrested in the month before the attacks, he told the FBI his flight training was merely an “ego-boosting thing.”

The government argues that Moussaoui should be put to death rather than imprisoned for life because he told lies that prevented authorities from foiling attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people.

Mr. MacMahon sought to show that the FBI knew more than a decade ago that Osama bin Laden was sending trainees to U.S. flight schools to learn to be pilots, and at least one went to the same Oklahoma school where Moussaoui trained.

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

To obtain the death penalty, prosecutors first must prove a direct link between Moussaoui and the September 11 attacks. Moussaoui denies any connection to the attacks and said he was training for a future attack.

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