- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 5, 2003

Terror suspect Zacarias Moussaoui was part of a team of al Qaeda operatives who intended to crash a jetliner into a U.S. government building in Washington, but it was not clear whether that attack was planned for September 11 or a new wave of strikes that never took place, federal authorities said yesterday.

Moussaoui, 35, a French citizen of Moroccan descent, is the only person charged in the September 11 suicide strikes on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, and some law enforcement officials have described him as the intended “20th hijacker” had he not been in custody for immigration violations at the time.

But others now question whether Moussaoui was part of another team of al Qaeda terrorists who planned to hijack other aircraft, which they intended to crash into government buildings, including the White House, as part of an ongoing jihad, or holy war, against the United States. They suggested yesterday that other would-be hijackers still might be at large.

“Some involved in the investigation strongly believe that Moussaoui was part of a second wave of terrorists looking to strike other targets, but that is just one theory in a continuing investigation,” said one law enforcement official who asked not to be identified. “Others would disagree, saying he was the intended 20th hijacker.”

Moussaoui faces trial in a federal grand jury indictment accusing him of conspiring with the 19 al Qaeda terrorists who slammed four fuel-laden commercial jetliners into the World Trade Center, Pentagon and a Pennsylvania field, killing about 3,000 people. The indictment said Moussaoui took actions similar to the hijackers who carried out the September 11 strikes, including enrolling in flight schools.

USA Today reported yesterday the FBI had identified the 20th hijacker and it was not Moussaoui or Ramzi Binalshibh, another al Qaeda operative who sought unsuccessfully on four occasions to enter the United States prior to the September 11 attacks.

Federal authorities disputed that report yesterday.

Moussaoui acknowledged belonging to al Qaeda, but denied any involvement in the September 11 conspiracy.

Authorities said investigators were continuing to focus on information that additional attacks had been planned against other targets in Washington, D.C., and that the al Qaeda organization was attempting to get several would-be hijackers into the country in the weeks before the September 11 attacks.

Documents filed last month by the Justice Department in the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond in the Moussaoui case said al Qaeda’s continuing efforts to bring additional hijackers into the country in the weeks before September 11 “suggests an operation much more in flux” than previously thought.

The documents do not elaborate, although authorities yesterday said al Qaeda also could have been making a last-ditch effort to put a fifth hijacker on United Airlines Flight 93, which crashed in Stony Creek Township, Pa. That plane, on which the passengers ended up confronting the hijackers, had four al Qaeda terrorists on board while the other three each had five.

The documents were filed by the government as an appeal to a ruling by U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema that barred prosecutors from seeking the death penalty after they refused to make three al Qaeda prisoners available to Moussaoui. The government contends that giving Moussaoui access to the detainees threatens national security.

Some of those detainees, according to court records, have told their interrogators that Moussaoui was not a “designated participant” in the September 11 attacks, but was part of a planned second wave of suicide strikes against other U.S. targets.

U.S. Attorney Paul J. McNulty, whose office is handling the Moussaoui case, has defied two court orders by Judge Brinkema giving Moussaoui the right to question detainees. As punishment, the judge barred prosecutors from seeking the death penalty or presenting evidence linking Moussaoui to September 11.

If its appeal is unsuccessful, the Bush administration is expected to move the case to a military tribunal.

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