- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 23, 2006


Prosecutors wrapped up their case for executing Zacarias Moussaoui with a former FBI agent’s testimony yesterday that the bureau could have identified 11 of the September 11 hijackers if the al Qaeda conspirator had confessed when he was arrested a month before the suicide attacks.

Before court-appointed defense attorneys could begin their case, Moussaoui announced loudly as he left for a recess that he would testify in his own behalf.

“I will testify, Zerkin, whether you want it or not,” he said, referring to one of his attorneys, Gerald Zerkin. The 37-year-old Frenchman of Moroccan ethnicity, the only person charged in this country in connection with the 2001 attacks, has refused to cooperate with his attorneys.

Former FBI agent Aaron Zebley testified that Moussaoui’s admission, when he pleaded guilty in April, that he received more than $14,000 in wire transfers from a man using the name Ahad Sabet could have allowed the FBI to go through Western Union, cell phone, calling-card and motor vehicle records, as well as leases and other business materials to identify most of the 19 hijackers who flew jetliners into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and a Pennsylvania field.

U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema, who has told the jury that it cannot decide Moussaoui’s punishment “on speculation,” barred Mr. Zebley from explicitly asserting what the FBI would have accomplished had Moussaoui confessed when arrested Aug. 16, 2001.

But Mr. Zebley gave prosecutors their strongest testimony in a week in which many of their witnesses ended up buttressing the defense argument that the FBI and Federal Aviation Administration bungled better intelligence about September 11 than what Moussaoui had in the summer of 2001.

Mr. Zebley implied that Moussaoui’s lies when arrested while taking pilot lessons in Minnesota foreclosed several avenues of investigation that might have saved at least one of the nearly 3,000 lives lost on September 11.

“We could have set about finding the hijackers,” Mr. Zebley said.

For the first hour of more than two hours on the stand yesterday, Mr. Zebley had jurors leaning forward to follow his explanation of how FBI agents moved from the data in records of one money transfer by Western Union, through incoming and outgoing calls to a phone number listed on the Western Union record, to the businesses that were called from all those phone numbers, to home addresses listed on business and bank transaction records, to leases and driver’s licenses and other IDs recorded by landlords.

He said that the identities of 11 of the hijackers were learned by these methods within weeks after the attacks and that these records existed in August 2001.

On cross-examination, defense attorney Edward MacMahon pointed out that neither Moussaoui’s statements after arrest nor anything found in a post-September 11 search of his possessions gave away that he got that money transfer by wire.

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