WASHINGTON, Feb. 12 (UPI) — A federal judge Wednesday canceled the June trial of accused terrorist Zacarias Moussaoui pending an appeal by prosecutors of an earlier sealed order.
The trial could be rescheduled after the appeal, but no date has been set.
Moussaoui, 33, is the only person held in U.S. civil custody and charged with plotting the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks on New York and Washington that killed about 3,000 people.
Acting as his own attorney, Moussaoui has admitted in open court to belonging to Osama bin Laden’s al Qaida network and to being a terrorist, but continues to deny involvement in the Sept. 11 attacks. Facing multiple counts of terrorism and conspiracy, Moussaoui could receive the death penalty if convicted.
In a Jan. 31 order, Federal Judge Leonie Brinkema granted a defense request under seal that the federal prosecutors immediately appealed and requested a stay of the June trial date.
Moussaoui has demanded access to several accused al Qaida operatives currently held by the United States and other countries. Because the original indictment accused Moussaoui of collaborating with several of these men — who were not in custody at the time the indictment was filed — he has demanded the right to cross-examine them at trial.
At various points in hearings, Brinkema has seemed reluctant to allow the trial to go forward without some testimony from these alleged co-conspirators. But few believe the United States would be willing to produce witnesses that it does not even admit to having in custody and allowing an accused member of al Qaida to cross-examine such witnesses in open court.
Some Justice Department officials have said in the past that instead of allowing such testimony — if ordered by Brinkema — then Moussaoui could be transferred to military custody for trial by a tribunal. Such proceedings would have far more liberal rules of evidence and could be conducted in secret.
On Feb. 4, British citizen Richard C. Reid was sentenced to three life sentences after he pleaded guilty to trying to blow an American Airlines flight out of the sky with explosives hidden in his shoes in December 2001. Reid had also announced that he was a member of al Qaida. Passengers restrained Reid while he was attempting to light a fuse attached to his shoes.