- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 9, 2006


A bizarre legal misstep by confessed al Qaeda conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui came back to haunt him yesterday as he helped confirm for jurors at his sentencing trial that he had said Osama bin Laden ordered him to fly a plane into the White House.

Moussaoui’s action emerged on a poor-quality videotape shown in federal court. The legal damage, however, may have been negligible because Moussaoui made the same admission in April when he pleaded guilty to conspiring with al Qaeda to fly airplanes into U.S. buildings.

Prosecutors showed a barely intelligible four-hour-long videotape of a deposition taken in November 2002, when Moussaoui was acting as his own attorney.

The videotape showed a prosecutor, Moussaoui and a standby court-appointed defense attorney questioning Fauzi bin Abu Bakar Bafana, who has admitted that he was treasurer of a Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, cell of Jemaah Islamiyah, an Asian terrorist group linked to al Qaeda.

The video linked the judge, Moussaoui and lawyers in the United States with lawyers and Bafana in Singapore, where he has been imprisoned since late 2001. The global hookup littered the tape with technical difficulties, including sound that often was too faint to hear and an echo effect.

In addition, Moussaoui and Bafana were forced to speak in English, which is not their first language.

The result was a video in which the most frequently uttered line was, “Repeat, please.”

Prosecutor Kenneth Karas got Bafana to describe how Jemaah Islamiyah had him provide lodging in 1999 to a visitor he knew only as John.

“He told me he had a dream to fly an airplane into the White House,” Bafana said. “He told me he told his dream to the sheik and the sheik told him to go ahead.” Bafana explained that the sheik was bin Laden.

Although he had elicited descriptions that fit known events in Moussaoui’s life, Mr. Karas rested his direct questioning without having Bafana identify John as Moussaoui. That government omission was remedied once Moussaoui cross-examined Bafana.

Moussaoui asked Bafana what John looked like.

“He looks exactly like you,” Bafana said.

Moussaoui: “Looks like me or are you certain it’s me?”

Bafana: “Certain.”

Scrambling to recover, Moussaoui dug himself deeper.

“Maybe somebody looks exactly like me,” Moussaoui said.

“I confirm that it’s you,” Bafana said.

Bafana also testified that Moussaoui rejected a flight-training school in Malaysia as “too expensive” and asked the group for $10,000 to bankroll his flight training in the United States. But Jemaah Islamiyah’s leader told Bafana to give him only $1,200 and send him back to from where he came.

Moussaoui claims that he was not part of the September 11, 2001, plot but rather would be part of a later assault on the White House. The government argues that if Moussaoui had not lied about his terrorist links and flight training when he was arrested in Minnesota in August 2001, the FBI would have prevented the September 11 attacks.

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