- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 3, 2002

A "not guilty" plea was entered yesterday for Zacarias Moussaoui after he refused to tell a federal court in Virginia whether he conspired to kill more than 3,000 people in the September 11 terrorist attacks.
The 33-year-old bearded French Moroccan, under heavy guard and wearing a green jumpsuit with the word "prisoner" stamped on his back, declined to enter a plea in a brief statement before U.S. District Judge Leonie M. Brinkema in Alexandria.
"In the name of Allah, I do not have anything to plead. I enter no plea. Thank you very much," he said in accented English.
Judge Brinkema said she understood the statement to be a plea of not guilty and Mr. Moussaoui's court-appointed attorney, Frank Dunham, said, "Yes, that is correct."
Trial tentatively was set by the judge to begin Oct. 14, a date suggested by federal prosecutor Robert Spencer. Jury selection will begin Sept. 30. It is not unusual for a case that could involve the death penalty to be scheduled several months after an initial arraignment.
Defense attorneys, however, had asked that the trial be delayed until February 2003, saying that if jury selection began in September, many could be influenced by the first anniversary of the September 11 attacks. They also argued that they need more time to prepare their case. The judge denied the request.
Mr. Moussaoui was indicted Dec. 11 by a federal grand jury on six counts of conspiracy.
The 30-page indictment said he schemed with Osama bin Laden and members of the al Qaeda terrorist network to murder thousands of people in the September 11 attacks.
Named as unindicted co-conspirators were bin Laden and al Qaeda members Ayman al-Zawahiri, head of the Egyptian Islamic Jihad; Moustaffa Ahmed al-Hawasawi, accused of providing funds to Mr. Moussaoui from banks in the United Arab Emirates; and Ramzi Binalshibh, also suspected of moving cash to Mr. Moussaoui.
The unindicted co-conspirators also included the 19 dead hijackers, who crashed four fuel-filled jetliners into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and a field in western Pennsylvania.
Four of the counts against Mr. Moussaoui call for the death penalty: conspiring with al Qaeda to kill and maim persons within the United States, conspiring to commit air piracy by seizing U.S. airplanes by means of force and violence, conspiring to destroy those airplanes, and conspiring to use weapons of mass destruction aircraft intended for use as missiles and bombs.
Two counts carry maximum penalties of life in prison: conspiring to kill officers and employees of the U.S. government, and conspiring to damage and destroy by means of fire and explosives, buildings and other property owned or possessed by the U.S. government.
Much of the evidence against Mr. Moussaoui is circumstantial, although law enforcement authorities and lawyers familiar with the case believe prosecutors will be able to tie him directly to the September 11 attacks.
The decision to try the case in federal court instead of before a military tribunal was made by President Bush, based on what Vice President Richard B. Cheney said was the strength of the case and an assessment that an open trial would not hurt national security. "There's a good, strong case against him," Mr. Cheney told The Washington Times.
Mr. Moussaoui arrived under heavy guard in a convoy of sport utility vehicles at the court before dawn, four hours before the hearing began.
Attorney General John Ashcroft has said Mr. Moussaoui engaged in the "same preparation for murder" as the 19 hijackers who carried out the September 11 strikes. He said Mr. Moussaoui trained at an al Qaeda camp in Afghanistan, obtained flight training in this country and received funding from sources in Germany and the Middle East.
Mr. Moussaoui first came to the attention of the FBI on Aug. 15, when agents in Minneapolis received information about his flight training. The agents, working with the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service, detained Mr. Moussaoui on visa violations, and he has been in custody since.
FBI agents in Minneapolis had sought a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act order to search his computer, although lawyers at FBI headquarters denied the request, saying there was insufficient probable cause for the order.
Mr. Moussaoui arrived in the United States in February, opened a bank account with $32,000 and immediately enrolled in a flight school. He then received $14,000, sent to him by Mr. Binalshibh from Germany, in August. On Aug. 10, he paid $6,300 in cash for flight lessons.
No decision has been made on whether prosecutors will seek the death penalty against Mr. Moussaoui. Mr. Ashcroft has said only that the Justice Department will "expeditiously" follow procedure that calls for an evaluation of indictments involving death-eligible offenses. Judge Brinkema set March 29 as the deadline for the government to decide whether it will seek the death penalty in the case.
Francois Roux, the attorney for Mr. Moussaoui's mother, Aicha el-Wafi, told reporters outside the court she decided not to attend.
He said she believed it would be "too difficult for her to see her son at the hearing" and that her appearance in the court "would have disturbed her son at this important judicial moment."


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