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Moussaoui: 'I am al Qaeda'

9/11 conspirator is volatile as jury selection begins in trial

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Zacarias Moussaoui admits being an al Qaeda operative but denies specific knowledge of the 9/11 plot.

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ALEXANDRIA, Virginia (CNN) -- Proclaiming "I am al Qaeda," Zacarias Moussaoui was removed four times from a federal courtroom as jury selection began Monday at a trial to determine whether he should be executed for terror conspiracy.

It is the first U.S. trial connected to the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

"This trial is a circus," Moussaoui shouted as federal marshals led him for the first time from the courtroom on Monday morning.

He continued his outbursts at later sessions and again was ejected after speaking out in the presence of propsective jurors.

"I will testify," Moussaoui vowed during an afternoon outburst.

"The defense is a fraud," he said. "They're not for my defense. I will take the stand to tell the whole truth about my involvement."

The first disruption began just one minute into the court's morning session, with about 120 prospective jurors already in the courtroom.

Seated behind his defense attorneys, Moussaoui interrupted Judge Leonie Brinkema, protesting that he did not want to be represented by his defense attorneys.

"I am al Qaeda. They are American. They are my enemies," Moussaoui said. (Watch how similar stunts delayed previous court proceedings -- 2:13)

Brinkema tried in vain to silence Moussaoui, saying it wasn't the time for him to be speaking.

Jurors silent

Moussaoui placed his hands on his head and did not resist as marshals escorted him from the courtroom.

Prospective jurors witnessed the outbursts in silence.

They arrived in four groups, totaling around 500 jurors, at the federal courthouse for jury selection, which is expected to last a month.

Following the interruptions, Brinkema told potential jurors they should note on their questionnaires if Moussaoui's outbursts might affect the way they judge the case.

The questionnaires also probe jurors' knowledge and opinions of the case, the September 11 attacks and the death penalty. (FindLaw: Read the jury questionnaireexternal link)

Charges explained

The judge explained the terrorism conspiracy charges brought against Moussaoui in a December 2001 indictment:

  • To commit terrorism transcending national boundaries.
  • To commit aircraft piracy.
  • To destroy aircraft.
  • To use weapons of mass destruction.
  • To murder U.S. government employees.
  • To destroy U.S. government property.
  • Moussaoui pleaded guilty to all six counts in April. The first four counts made him eligible for the death penalty.

    But in an order unsealed Monday, Brinkema ruled that jurors cannot consider the air piracy charge when deciding the death penalty.

    She ruled that under the law, death is an appropriate punishment for air piracy only "if the death of another individual results from the commission or attempt" to hijack a plane.

    Moussaoui was behind bars on September 11. The government argues that the hijackings were part of the broader conspiracy that Moussaoui had joined.

    With his guilt already established, the purpose of the trial is to determine Moussaoui's punishment.

    The jury eventually impaneled will have two choices -- life in prison without the possibility of parole or death by lethal injection, the only approved form of execution in the federal system.

    Anonymous jury

    Twelve jurors and six alternates will remain anonymous to the judge and attorneys, known only by the jury pool number.

    Moussaoui's case has been marked by his erratic behavior from the beginning.

    In 2002, he effectively fired his attorneys, led by the federal defender's office in Alexandria, and represented himself for a year and a half, until his inappropriate motions prompted Brinkema to strip him of the privilege.

    The longest trial delay came during a legal standoff over the defense's request to depose top al Qaeda detainees in military custody overseas, including September 11 coordinators Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and Ramzi Binalshibh.

    Mohammed and Binalshibh could clear him of any direct involvement in the September 11 attacks, Moussaoui argued.

    But the government successfully argued in two trips to the federal appeals court in Richmond that access to the military prisoners would breach national security. The U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear the case.

    Instead, Moussaoui's defense will be permitted to introduce written substitutions for the detainees' testimony.

    Admits al Qaeda role

    Moussaoui admits training at an al Qaeda camp in Afghanistan in 1998, pledging allegiance to bin Laden and being tapped by him to participate in a conspiracy to crash planes into landmark U.S. buildings.

    But Moussaoui maintains he was tapped for a post-9/11 role. It involved a plot to crash a a plane into the White House to gain the release of radical Egyptian cleric Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman, who is serving a life sentence in the United States for inspiring the 1993 trade center attack and a thwarted plot to attack landmark buildings, bridges and tunnels.

    On September 11, 2001, 19 men hijacked and crashed planes into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and a field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, killing 2,973 people.

    Prosecutors maintain that Moussaoui's actions mirror those of the hijackers. He joined al Qaeda, took flying lessons in the United States, bought knives and a global positioning system and received money from the same paymaster.

    They also contend that his lies to FBI agents who questioned him in August 2001 covered up the conspiracy and facilitated the deaths on September 11.

    After arousing suspicion at a Minnesota flight school, Moussaoui initially was detained for overstaying his 90-day visa and later was held in New York as a material witness in the September 11 investigation. He was indicted three months after the attacks.

    CNN's Kevin Bohn and Jeanne Meserve in Alexandria and Phil Hirsckorn in New York contributed to this report.

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