- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 4, 2006

A federal jury yesterday said Zacarias Moussaoui, the al Qaeda terrorist who pleaded guilty to conspiring with the hijackers who crashed airplanes into U.S. targets, is eligible for the death penalty, setting up a second phase of deliberations to determine whether he should be executed.

The verdict was announced during an afternoon session at U.S. District Court in Alexandria, after jury deliberations that began Wednesday during the first phase of the penalty trial. Moussaoui is the only person to be charged in the United States in connection with the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon that killed nearly 3,000 people.

The jury of nine men and three women found that Moussaoui’s lies to FBI agents after his August 2001 arrest in Minneapolis on immigration charges and his decision to conceal from the agents information he had about the pending attack led directly to at least one death.

The jury foreman told the court the decision was unanimous on the four counts against Moussaoui that called for the death penalty: conspiring with al Qaeda to kill and maim persons in this country, 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 as missiles and bombs.

The jury decided that Moussaoui intentionally lied to FBI agents on Aug. 16-18, 2001, “contemplating the life of a person would be taken or intending that lethal force would be used,” and that at least one person died September 11 as a direct result of his lies.

Now that the jury has determined that Moussaoui is eligible for execution, the next phase of the penalty trial will decide whether he deserves to die.

Moussaoui sat silently and prayed during the nine-minute session as the verdict was read. He refused to stand when asked to do so by U.S. District Judge Leonie M. Brinkema. Afterward, he said: “You’ll never get my blood. God curse you all.”

The second phase of deliberations, which are expected to last up to two weeks, will begin Thursday morning with testimony about aggravating and mitigating circumstances. Victims of the September 11 attacks and their families also will be able to testify face to face with Moussaoui.

Moussaoui’s court-appointed defense attorneys are expected to call experts to show that their client is schizophrenic after an impoverished childhood during which he faced racism in France over his Moroccan ancestry.

During its deliberations, the jury asked only one question, seeking a definition of “weapon of mass destruction.” The jurors were told that an airplane used as a missile qualified as a weapon of mass destruction. One of the three capital charges to which Moussaoui pleaded guilty was conspiracy to use weapons of mass destruction.

Moussaoui, 37, pleaded guilty in April to charges of conspiring with al Qaeda terrorists in the September 11 attacks. At the time, he denied being a part of the initial attack, but said he was in training for a second wave of hijacked airplanes to slam into U.S. targets. In his plea, Moussaoui admitted knowing the 19 al Qaeda hijackers were going to fly aircraft into U.S. buildings.

In his testimony during the penalty trial, Moussaoui changed his story, saying he was an active part of the September 11 hijacking conspiracy and had been scheduled before his arrest to fly an airplane into the White House. Senior al Qaeda officials questioned by U.S. authorities in prison denied that Moussaoui was part of the September 11 plot.

Had the jurors voted that Moussaoui was not eligible for the death penalty, he would have been sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Moussaoui came to the FBI’s attention in August 2001, when agents in Minneapolis learned of his flight training. The agents detained Moussaoui on visa violations and later sought a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act order to search his computer. Lawyers at FBI headquarters denied the request, citing insufficient probable cause.

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