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Prosecutors Ask Jury for Death Sentence in Moussaoui...s Trial

By Neil A. Lewis


A federal prosecutor on Monday asked a jury to sentence Zacarias Moussaoui to death, saying that his willful decision to conceal his knowledge of the Sept. 11 terrorist plot when he was arrested weeks earlier made him responsible for the thousands of deaths that day.

In response, a court-appointed lawyer for Moussaoui told jurors they could not order the execution of a man on no more than a supposition: that had he revealed his knowledge of al-Qaida’s interest in flying planes into public buildings, the federal authorities would have prevented the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

Moussaoui, a 37-year-old Frenchman of Moroccan heritage, is the only person to be charged in the U.S. justice system with direct involvement in the Sept. 11 attacks. He was in jail on that day, having been arrested three weeks earlier in Minnesota on immigration charges while he was taking flying lessons.

He has pleaded guilty to six conspiracy counts and admitted that he was taking flight training to be available for a Qaida campaign to fly aircraft into buildings. But he has insisted that he was not part of the Sept. 11 plot and did not deserve to die.

Because he has pleaded guilty, the trial that got under way on Monday is solely over whether he is to be executed by lethal injection at a federal prison in Indiana or spend his life in prison.

In their opening statements, lawyers for the government and for Moussaoui presented starkly different portraits of his importance to al-Qaida’s plans to wage war on the United States.

Robert Spencer, an assistant U.S. attorney, told the jury that Moussaoui was “in the thick of the plot” but that because he had been arrested, his contribution to the attacks “in the end was to lie so his al-Qaida brothers could go forward.”

Spencer said that had Moussaoui told a Federal Bureau of Investigation agent in August what he knew about al-Qaida’s plans, the bureau and the Federal Aviation Administration would have gone on full alert and taken steps to hunt down the hijackers and increased security at the nation’s airports.

He said documents recovered from Moussaoui’s home after Sept. 11 provided valuable clues that would have led directly to many of the 19 hijackers of that day.

“He killed the 9/11 victims as surely as if he had been at the controls in one of those airplanes,” Spencer said.