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Lawyers in Moussaoui case grapple with FBI's role

Agent testifies it knew of al Qaeda pilot training, but not of plot

FBI Special Agent Michael Anticev is the first witnesss at the sentencing trial for Zacarias Moussaoui.



Zacarias Moussaoui
September 11 attacks
Capital Punishment

ALEXANDRIA, Virginia (CNN) -- At Zacarias Moussaoui's sentencing trial, an FBI agent testified Tuesday about al Qaeda's training manual, what the FBI knew prior to 9/11 about al Qaeda operatives' lessons at U.S. flight schools, and missed opportunities to learn more.

Prosecution and defense attorneys FBI special agent Michael Anticev's testimony to underscore points central to their cases.

Moussaoui's defense got Anticev to acknowledge under cross-examination that the FBI knew years before the September 11, 2001, terror attacks that al Qaeda associates were training at U.S. flight schools.

But Anticev said that although the FBI knew about the training, agents were not aware that al Qaeda planned to use hijacked planes as weapons.

Earlier, prosecutors presented evidence that Moussaoui lied to FBI agents after his arrest -- just as al Qaeda had trained him to do.

Moussaoui's defense is portraying him as an al Qaeda bumbler who knew less about the attack plan than the FBI should have known.

On Tuesday, defense attorney Edward MacMahon elicited several points that are key to his argument from the government's witness.

Cross-examination points

Under MacMahon's cross-examination, Anticev said the FBI was aware that in the 1990s, an al Qaeda associate training to be a pilot for Osama bin Laden had gone to the same Oklahoma flight school that Moussaoui attended in early 2001.

Moussaoui enrolled at the Airman Flight School in Norman, Oklahoma, shortly after his arrival in the United States in February 2001. He trained 50 hours in single-engine aircraft before quitting in May without obtaining a pilot's license.

When Moussaoui showed up a Minnesota flight school that summer seeking 747 training, he aroused suspicions that led to his arrest in August.

The government, which is seeking Moussaoui's execution, contends his lies to the FBI after his arrest kept agents from uncovering the hijacking plot. The attacks killed nearly 3,000.

The defense is seeking to poke holes in the government's case, and MacMahon used the FBI witness to suggest that other opportunities to connect the dots were missed.

Dots not connected

Under MacMahon's questioning, Anticev acknowledged that no one involved in the Minnesota investigation of Moussaoui called him or his fellow counterterrorism agents in New York -- the FBI's best repository of information about al Qaeda.

Before September 11, "No one ever asked you a single question about Mr. Moussaoui?" MacMahon asked.

"No," Anticev replied.

Prosecutors called Anticev as their first witness to provide jurors with background on al Qaeda and to try to show that Moussaoui's lies after his arrest were part of al Qaeda's script.

Jurors heard about an 18-chapter al Qaeda training manual much like the one recruits such as Moussaoui would have studied in Afghanistan.

Besides chapters on ideology, terrorism tactics, cell structure and assassination methods, the manual explains how to keep secrets and what to say if captured.

FBI Special Agent James Fitzgerald, who followed Anticev on the stand, gave the jury its first detailed overview of the September 11 plot, how the bureau identified the 19 hijackers, and where it recovered evidence.

Charred business card

One piece of evidence that might prove damaging to Moussaoui is a charred business card found at the crash site of United Airlines Flight 93, which went down in a field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania.

On the back of the card is a telephone number that prosecutors allege Moussaoui called.

The penalty phase of Moussaoui's trial, which began Monday, is between sentences of death by lethal injection or life in prison without possibility of parole.

To reach a verdict for execution, the jury must find that Moussaoui intentionally participated in an act in which he contemplated that a life or lives would be lost, and that at least one person died as a result.

Prosecutors contend that the "act" is Moussaoui's lies to FBI agents before September 11.

The lies that Moussaoui admitted in his guilty plea -- that he underwent pilot training for fun and intended to visit New York and Washington as a tourist -- allowed "his al Qaeda 'brothers' to go forward" with the planes plot, prosecutors say.

The jury will first deliberate only the question of whether people died September 11, 2001 because of Moussaoui's lies. Should it find that they did, the death penalty trial will continue.

Moussaoui, 37, pleaded guilty 11 months ago to six terrorism conspiracy charges.

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