- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 29, 2006


Al Qaeda conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui offered last month to testify for prosecutors against himself at his death-penalty trial and told agents that he did not want to die in prison, according to dramatic last-minute testimony yesterday.

The testimony, introduced as part of a brief government rebuttal case, may be the firmest evidence that the 37-year-old Frenchman of Moroccan descent hoped for martyrdom through execution.

Moussaoui offered on Feb. 2, just before jury selection began, to testify that he was to have hijacked and piloted a fifth plane on September 11, 2001. He did not ask that prosecutors stop pursuing the death penalty in return. He sought only better conditions in prison and a promise not to be called to testify against other al Qaeda members.

FBI agent James Fitzgerald said Moussaoui told him — in a jailhouse meeting that the defendant requested — that he did not want to die behind bars, and it was “different to die in a battle … than in a jail on a toilet.” Moussaoui dropped this bid after he learned that he had an absolute right to testify in his own defense.

Last month’s meeting was to have been off the record but was introduced by prosecutors at the end of testimony in the case to rebut a defense exhibit. Closing its case yesterday , the defense had introduced a partial transcript of Moussaoui’s guilty plea last April.

In the pleading, Moussaoui said, “Everybody knows that I’m not 9/11 material.” He said September 11 “is not my conspiracy.”

On Monday, Moussaoui stunned the court by asserting that he was to fly a 747 jetliner into the White House on September 11, despite having claimed for three years that he had no role in the plot. Instead, he had said his attack was to be part of a possible later assault.

Defense attorneys yesterday used testimony from two high-ranking al Qaeda operatives to rebut Moussaoui’s latest claims.

One terrorist, identified as Sayf al-Adl, a senior member of al Qaeda’s military committee and close aide to bin Laden, stated sometime between Sept. 1, 2001, and late July 2004, that Moussaoui was “a confirmed jihadist but was absolutely not going to take part in the September 11, 2001, mission.”

Another top terrorist witness — Waleed bin Attash, known as Khallad — is considered the mastermind of the 2000 suicide attack on the USS Cole and an early planner of the September 11 plot. He said he knew of no part that Moussaoui was to have played in the attacks. Khallad was captured in April 2003.

Khallad portrayed Moussaoui as a loose cannon during a trip to Malaysia in 2000, where members of a radical group affiliated with al Qaeda had agreed to help him get flight training. Khallad said Moussaoui breached security measures, spurned the local flight schools and proposed outlandish plots to raise money, including kidnapping prominent Chinese businessmen for ransom.

The witnesses were not present or seen in the courtroom, primarily because the government refused to allow captured al Qaeda members to appear, for national security reasons.

U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema set this afternoon for closing arguments on whether the actions Moussaoui has admitted make him eligible for the death penalty or for a sentence of life in prison.

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