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October trial date set for terror suspect

An artist's sketch of Zacarias Moussaoui in U.S. federal court Wednesday.  

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A federal judge Wednesday set an October trial date for Zacarias Moussaoui, the first suspect to be indicted for the September 11 terrorist attacks.

U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema entered innocent pleas for Moussaoui after he refused to enter a plea to conspiracy charges.

"In the name of Allah, I do not have anything to plea. I enter no plea," Moussaoui told Brinkema. The judge then said she presumed that meant a plea of not guilty and Moussaoui's lawyer agreed.

Jury selection will begin by questionnaire on September 30. Brinkema rejected defense pleas for more time to prepare for trial.

Moussaoui arrived at the courthouse in Arlington, Virginia, amid heavy security. The hearing took place a few miles from the Pentagon, hit in September by one of four hijacked jetliners.

Indictment: U.S. v. Moussaoui  FindLaw document (PDF format)

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Zacarias Moussaoui was indicted on six counts:
1) Conspiracy to commit acts of terrorism

2) Conspiracy to commit air piracy

3) Conspiracy to destroy aircraft

4) Conspiracy to use weapons of mass destruction

5) Conspiracy to commit murder

6) Conspiracy to destroy property

The 33-year-old French citizen of Moroccan descent could face the death penalty if convicted. One federal prosecutor said the government would file a notice March 29 if it intends to seek the death penalty. In a sign that such a move is expected, the judge set a hearing for May 16 to hear arguments about the death penalty.

Moussaoui is charged with conspiring with accused terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden and his al Qaeda network to murder the more than 3,300 people that died when the hijacked jetliners crashed in New York, Pennsylvania and the Pentagon.

He is charged with six counts of conspiracy. Four of those charges carry a maximum sentence of the death penalty, while the remaining two charges carry a maximum sentence of life in prison.

Moussaoui was not on any of the September 11 flights, but the Justice Department said in its indictment that Moussaoui engaged in the "same preparation for murder" as the 19 hijackers.

Wearing a green prison jumpsuit, Moussaoui spoke in English when he addressed the judge. The courtroom was packed with reporters, and U.S. marshals were both inside and outside the building.

Judge rejects defense request for 2003 trial date

Federal public defender Frank Dunham -- one of three attorneys representing Moussaoui -- said there have been no communication problems with the suspect.

Fellow defense attorney Gerald Zerkin asked the judge for a later trial date, February 2003. He cited the complexity of the case, its international scope, the need for defense attorneys to learn about the al Qaeda network and security clearances required by the government for viewing certain evidence as some of the reasons more time was needed.

But Brinkema said the team of three had sufficient time and told him that if problems arose, the defense attorneys could return to court. The October 14 trial date was proposed by the government and Brinkema accepted it.

Zerkin said the prospect of jury selection starting September 30 was also too close to what will be the one year anniversary of the September 11 attacks, but the judge rejected that argument.

The judge set a hearing for April 4 to consider any defense motions, and she set another hearing for June 20 to consider any motions dealing with discovery.

Hinting that she would likely reject any defense request for a change of venue, Brinkema said, "I'm satisfied that the northern Virginia population will give an excellent jury."

Mother: 'He did nothing'

Aicha El Wafi told reporters her son, Moussaouri, denied involvement in the September 11 attacks.
Aicha El Wafi told reporters her son, Moussaouri, denied involvement in the September 11 attacks.  

Moussaoui's mother, who had flown here from France last week, did not appear in court. Her lawyer, Francois Roux, said she would return to France Wednesday night and it would have been "too difficult" for her to see her son in court.

Aicha El Wafi had wanted to meet with her son, but she objected to the government's requirement that an FBI agent be present during such a meeting, the attorney said.

In a brief news conference Wednesday evening before she boarded a flight to France at Washington-Dulles International Airport, El Wafi said her son had written her a letter in October, declaring his innocence.

"He told me he didn't do anything, and September 11 he was in jail. So for me, until proven otherwise, my son did nothing," El Wafi said.

She said her visit to the United States reassured her because she was able to see how the American justice system works. El Wafi also said she felt she was leaving her son in capable hands with his defense team.

FBI, flight school discussed suspect in August

Moussaoui was arrested in Minnesota a month before the September 11 attacks on immigration charges after he aroused suspicion by trying to buy time on a jumbo jet flight simulator at a flight school. He was in custody when the attacks occurred.

The FBI and an official at a Minnesota flight school discussed the possibility that Moussaoui might have been planning to use a plane as a flying bomb -- a discussion that took place before the September 11 attacks, a government official said Wednesday.

At that same meeting, which occurred around the time that Moussaoui was arrested in August in Minnesota for an alleged visa violation, school officials and the FBI agents discussed the possibility that Moussaoui could have been planning a hijacking, the source said.

But the source rejected the suggestion that the FBI did not do all it could to prevent the attacks, noting that Moussaoui has never cooperated in the investigation and there was nothing else to suggest a broader plot was in the works.

In a separate development, U.S. officials were investigating whether Moussaoui trained in the same al Qaeda camp as Richard Reid, the man accused of trying to ignite a bomb in his tennis shoes on a December 22 flight from Paris to Miami.

The two men both attended the same London mosque, though officials there never saw them together.

-- CNN producers Phil Hirschkorn and Kevin Bohn contributed to this report.


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