U.S. rests in Moussaoui sentencing trial
Retired FBI agent's testimony goes to heart of U.S. case
From Phil Hirschkorn
Zacarias Moussaoui is the only person tried in the United States in connection with the attacks of September 11, 2001.
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ALEXANDRIA, Virginia (CNN) -- Federal prosecutors rested their case Thursday in the sentencing phase of the trial of Zacarias Moussaoui.
After presenting 25 witnesses over eight days, prosecutors concluded with one of their most powerful witnesses -- a retired FBI agent whose testimony went to the heart of the government's case.
Aaron Zebley told the jury that had Moussaoui leveled with investigators about his al Qaeda ties, the FBI could have unraveled the plot to carry out the September 11, 2001, terror attacks.
Moussaoui, a 37-year-old Frenchman of Moroccan descent, pleaded guilty to terrorism conspiracy last year. He has denied any direct connection to the 9/11 attacks.
The only issue in the sentencing trial is whether Moussaoui will receive the death penalty or life in prison.
Zebley, now a federal prosecutor, spent four years investigating the attacks as a member of the FBI's New York-based al Qaeda squad.
He told jurors that links to more than half of the 9/11 hijackers would have been made had Moussaoui been forthcoming and let agents search his belongings after his August 2001 arrest.
"We could have set about finding them," Zebley said. "We could have gone to the flight schools and looked for people who were like the defendant."
Prosecutors say Moussaoui should be put to death because his lies furthered the scheme.
If jurors agree, the trial will continue with victim-impact testimony from 9/11 family members and other evidence.
Prosecutors relied on a detailed "statement of facts" Moussaoui signed during his plea to form the basis of Zebley's testimony. Zebley's detailed PowerPoint presentation to the jury summed up most of the government's evidence.
Prosecutors present details
The information Zebley showed jurors was gathered by FBI agents after the September 11 attacks, when 11,000 agents were assigned to the case.
Zebley displayed records of Western Union money transfers Moussaoui received in early August, along with a list of U.S. flight schools and a letter from Malaysia that was in his possession -- key clues to tracking the other terrorists.
The starting point was the $14,000 wired from Germany to Moussaoui in Oklahoma in early August 2001.
The cell-phone number of the sender, known as Ahad Sabet, was later found in a notebook in Moussaoui's bags. That name turned out to be an alias for Ramzi Binalshibh, a key 9/11 plot coordinator who had lived in Hamburg with three of the hijacker-pilots.
The funds Binalshibh sent to Moussaoui originated in the United Arab Emirates with al Qaeda paymaster Mustafa al-Hawsawi. His cell-phone phone number was called 19 times from the United States by people using four AT&T calling cards, which also were used to dial cell phones that belonged to three of the hijackers.
By tracing the phone records, Zebley said, FBI agents were led to addresses, flights schools, bank accounts and other business activities connected to 11 of the 19 hijackers.
Among them were all four of the hijacker pilots -- and the two most important "muscle" hijackers -- who were the first to enter the United States, in January 2000.
Hijacker Marwan al-Shehhi possessed one of the cell-phone numbers linked to the UAE paymaster. Following that lead, FBI agents learned he had lived in Florida with the plot's leader, Mohammed Atta.
The FBI learned the pair shared an account at SunTrust bank, where al-Hawsawi wired them $110,000. They trained together at Huffman Aviation in Venice, Florida, and flew flight simulators at a Pan Am International facility in Miami, a branch of the same school Moussaoui attended in Minnesota.
Zebley said agents could have canvassed the schools in late August for students who, like Moussaoui, were from the Middle East and had a German connection.
'We'll never know'
Atta, al-Shehhi, and a third hijacker pilot, Ziad Jarrah, had lived in Hamburg with Binalshibh. They also lived and trained in Florida in 2001. Atta's phone records revealed numerous conversations with Jarrah.
Pilot-hijacker Hani Hanjour took jet simulator training at a Pan Am-owned facility, JetTech, in Phoenix, Arizona. When agents eventually visited the school, they discovered he lived with hijacker Nawaf al-Hazmi, who records showed previously lived with Khaled al-Mihdar in San Diego.
Al-Hazmi and al-Mihdar were on a CIA watch list and were known by the intelligence community to have attended an al Qaeda summit in January 2000 at the Kuala Lumpur apartment of al Qaeda operative Yazid Sufat.
A question for the jury to decide is whether the FBI could have put it all together in the three weeks between Moussaoui's arrest and the attacks.
Under cross-examination, defense attorney Edward MacMahon pressed Zebley on whether the FBI knew that al-Hazmi and al-Mihdar had entered the United States in early 2000 and lived, for a time, with an FBI informant in San Diego.
"The FBI was not aware they were in the country," Zebley said.
It wasn't until August 28, 2001, that the Osama bin Laden squad was given that information, according to documents shown to the jury.
MacMahon asked Zebley if the FBI could have looked for the two men sooner if the CIA had shared the information on their whereabouts sooner.
"We'll never know, right?" MacMahon asked.
"Correct," Zebley replied.
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