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Moussaoui Asks To Represent Self in Sept. 11 Terrorism Trial

By Brooke A. Masters
THE WASHINGTON POST -- washington

Zacarias Moussaoui, the only person facing American charges in the Sept. 11 hijackings, jarred a federal courtroom Monday by telling a judge he wants to fire his court-appointed lawyers and praying for the destruction of the United States and Israel.

In a calm but fervent 50-minute statement at the lawyers’ lectern, Moussaoui, 33, quoted extensively from the Koran in English and Arabic as he explained that he wants to represent himself and hire a Muslim attorney as his legal consultant. He faces the death penalty if convicted on charges that he conspired with Osama bin Laden and the 19 hijackers to carry out the terrorist attacks.

The French citizen told U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema that his lawyers “have no understanding of terrorism, Muslim, mujahideen.” He also accused Brinkema and his lawyers of being part of a government plot to “get this matter over as quickly as possible... (because) the U.S. commander in chief wants me to be over quickly.”

Then he called for the return of parts of the world to Muslim rule, including Spain, Kashmir and Chechnya. “I pray... for the destruction of the Jewish people and state and the liberation of Palestine... I pray to Allah the powerful for the return of the Islamic emirates of Afghanistan and the destruction of the United States,” he said.

“America, America I am ready to fight in your Don King fight ... even both hands tied behind the back in court.”

Moussaoui’s request complicates the case for the Justice Department, which may now have to share the stage with an alleged terrorist, who would be able to make an opening statement, a closing argument and cross-examine witnesses.

“This is a nightmare scenario,” said Eric Holder, a former top Justice Department official. “Now you have the prospect of him deflecting attention from the one opportunity the United States has to explain what Sept. 11 was all about and what al- Qaida is. Now people are going to be focused on the rantings and ravings of this zealot.”

Moussaoui’s announcement derailed what was to have been a short hearing to consider defense complaints about his confinement. His lawyer had just started talking when Moussaoui raised his arm, one finger to the sky. Given permission to speak, he announced in heavily accented but fluent English, “They are not anymore my lawyers.”

Brinkema told Moussaoui she respected his constitutional right to represent himself against charges of helping to plot the four hijackings that killed more than 3,000 people, but would not make a final decision until a psychiatrist examined him for mental health problems.