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Judge rejects Moussaoui's 'I am guilty' plea

Terror suspect says he is member of al Qaeda

Moussaoui: "I know exactly who done it, I know which group, who participated, and I know when it was decided."  

ALEXANDRIA, Virginia (CNN) -- A federal judge rejected attempts Thursday by Zacarias Moussaoui, indicted in connection with September 11 attacks, to plead guilty to federal conspiracy charges during a court hearing.

"I am guilty," Moussaoui said at a federal court hearing. He added that he is a member of al Qaeda and had sworn a loyalty oath to Osama bin Laden, its leader.

U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema told Moussaoui she would not allow him to plead guilty Thursday, and urged him instead to think about the ramifications of his decision and consider entering plea negotiations with the government.

She then cut him off, abruptly recessing court for a week.

The 34-year-old Moussaoui is the only individual charged in connection with the September 11 attacks. The original indictment in December accused him of plotting with the 19 hijackers and mimicking their conduct, including enrollment in flight schools.

So-called 20th hijacker Zacarias Moussaoui is told to take a week to reconsider his guilty plea. CNN's Deborah Feyerick reports (July 18)

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Zacarias Moussaoui has filed a steady stream of revealing paperwork in the past month. CNN's Deborah Feyerick reports on the mindset of the man facing trial for the 9-11 terrorist attacks (July 18)

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Superseding indictment, July 16, 2002: U.S. v. Moussaoui  (FindLaw document, PDF format)
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Moussaoui was in court to be re-arraigned on the government's second superseding indictment, which was filed Tuesday with adjustments to make him eligible for the death penalty.

In the courtroom, Moussaoui admitted to being part of an ongoing conspiracy since 1995, but he did not specify what kind of conspiracy or what his role in the conspiracy may have been.

Moussaoui, a French citizen of Moroccan descent, told the judge, "I want to enter a plea today of guilty, because this will ensure to save my life." He said that he had "certain knowledge about September 11." He also said, "I know exactly who done it, I know which group, who participated, and I know when it was decided."

He added, "I am a member of al Qaeda. I pledge bayat to Osama bin Laden." Bayat is the loyalty oath taken by members of al Qaeda.

He told the judge, "I have many, many information to give to the America[n] people about an existing conspiracy."

But Brinkema would not allow him to continue. "This is not the forum to do that," she said. She suggested it might be in his best interest to enter into plea bargain negotiations with the government.

At that point, Moussaoui -- wearing a green prison-issue jumpsuit -- jumped to his feet.

"You have preventing me from entering the plea I wanted," he said, waving finger back and forth as if to say, "No, no."

"For the guilt phase, I'm guilty," Moussaoui said, his voice rising. "But for the death penalty [phase], we will see." He said a jury "will be able to evaluate how much responsibility I have in this."

Brinkema told him that he cannot plead guilty to bits and pieces of the indictment; that if he pleads guilty, he must do so to all of the charges.

"You cannot plead guilty and then say, 'But I didn't do this and I didn't do that and somebody else did that,'" she said.

After Brinkema urged him to take the week to consider whether he really wants to plead guilty, Moussaoui told her, "Bet on me. I will."

As she has on two previous occasions, Brinkema entered a not-guilty plea for Moussaoui, and the court then moved on to other pre-trial issues, such as the handing over of evidence.

Standby defense attorney Frank Dunham told CNN he didn't think Moussaoui was agreeing to plead guilty to the charges he faces.

"If someone went over the indictment with him line by line I don't believe he'd agree to all of the charges," said Dunham, who was not in the courtroom Thursday. "What he's admitting to is not consistent with what he's charged with."

Thursday's hearing, which lasted 40 minutes, was the last scheduled pre-trial hearing to review motions.

Moussaoui has filed 94 hand-written motions since he declared his desire to represent himself in April.

Brinkema told him to stop doing so. "To continue filing the same motion will get you nowhere and may very well be construed by the court as evidence of your inability to properly represent yourself."

Moussaoui had repeatedly requested the counsel of a Muslim attorney, who had not registered with the court as required and so has not been allowed to represent him.

Instead, the court has appointed five attorneys, all of whom Moussaoui has rejected -- opting instead to represent himself, though he is not a lawyer.

Four of the five lawyers were in the courtroom Thursday, serving as standby defense counsel.

Brinkema told Moussaoui that if he wants to hammer out a plea deal he would need to allow his standby counsel to arrange such a negotiation.

If he were convicted by a jury, the same jury would then consider evidence on whether Moussaoui's sentence should be death or life imprisonment.

If Moussaoui were to be convicted on any one of four death penalty-eligible charges of the total six conspiracy counts he faces, he would be eligible for a death sentence.

The four counts that carry a potential death penalty are conspiracy to commit acts of terrorism transcending national boundaries, conspiracy to commit aircraft piracy, conspiracy to destroy aircraft and conspiracy to use weapons of mass destruction.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert Spencer told the judge the government would accept a plea of guilty from Moussaoui next week, if he were to offer it again.

Investigators believe Moussaoui, a French national of Moroccan descent, was to have been the "20th hijacker" in the September 11 attacks. He was being held on immigration violations at the time of the attacks.

-- CNN producers Phil Hirschkorn and Carol Cratty and Correspondent Deborah Feyerick contributed to this report.




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