- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 15, 2006

After being tossed out of the courtroom on five occasions because of his disruptive behavior in two prior hearings, admitted al Qaeda terrorist Zacarias Moussaoui was unexpectedly back in court yesterday.

U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema, who Tuesday barred Moussaoui from ongoing jury selection in the trial’s sentencing phase, offered no explanation for her change of mind — and made no mention of his prior behavior to potential jurors in the death-penalty case.

The prospective jury pool, which has been split into groups of a dozen, is being questioned individually by Judge Brinkema about answers to a 49-page questionnaire submitted by government prosecutors and Moussaoui’s defense attorneys.

The questionnaires ask for potential jurors’ views on capital punishment; whether they knew anyone who died in the September 11 attacks; what they know about the 19 hijackers or Osama bin Laden, the Islamic terrorist behind the attacks; and whether they ever worked in an airport, as a firefighter or at the Pentagon.

They also inquire about the potential jurors’ education, occupation and religion; how often they attend a house of worship; and whether they know anything about Islam. Prosecutors included questions about whether the potential jurors speak Arabic or know anyone of Arab descent, where they get their news and for the names of civic groups to which they belong.

Moussaoui, 37, a French national of Moroccan descent, pleaded guilty in April to conspiring with the 19 al Qaeda terrorists who crashed four hijacked commercial jetliners into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and a Pennsylvania field, killing nearly 3,000 people.

In his plea, he said he conspired with members of al Qaeda to commit acts of terrorism and aircraft piracy and to murder U.S. citizens, but has denied any direct involvement in the September 11 attacks.

On March 6, a pool of 85 prospective jurors is scheduled to return to the courtroom for final jury selection. The government and defense attorneys at that point can exercise up to 30 peremptory challenges to strike prospective jurors from the panel without having to describe their reasons.

The prospective jurors interviewed yesterday were identified only by number. Nine of the 12 were accepted by Judge Brinkema, including a Pakistani immigrant.

A jury of 18 persons, including six alternates, ultimately will be selected. Once impaneled, the jury will decide whether Moussaoui spends the rest of his life in prison without the possibility of parole or dies by lethal injection, the only form of execution used in the federal system.

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