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Moussaoui: White House was my 9/11 target

Al Qaeda conspirator takes stand against his lawyers' wishes

From Phil Hirschkorn

Zacarias Moussaoui is the only person tried in the United States in connection with the September 11 attacks.



Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI)
Air Transportation
September 11 attacks

ALEXANDRIA, Virginia (CNN) -- Al Qaeda conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui told a stunned courtroom Monday that he and would-be shoe bomber Richard Reid were supposed to hijack a fifth plane on September 11, 2001, and crash it into the White House.

In a day of startling revelations, an unrepentant Moussaoui also said for the first time that he knew about al Qaeda's plot to hijack planes and fly them into the twin towers of the World Trade Center.

Under cross-examination, Moussaoui said he rejoiced at seeing the smoldering rubble and hearing a recording of a doomed flight attendant begging for her life.

Moussaoui explained to jurors why he doesn't trust his defense team: "I consider every American my enemy." (Watch details of Moussaoui's testimony -- 2:14)

Moussaoui's boldest revelations focused on the 9/11 plot, his role, and what he knew in advance of the terrorist attacks.

"I had knowledge that the two towers would be hit, but I did not have the details," Moussaoui told jurors.

Moussaoui said that while he didn't know the "precise date to the day" of the planned terrorist attacks, he knew they would come soon after his arrest in August 2001 in Minnesota. He said he made sure he had a radio in his jail cell.

When the first news reports on September 11 described a fire at the trade center, Moussaoui said, "I immediately understood."

'It is smoking good'

Three days later, as he was flown from a Minnesota jail to New York, Moussaoui said he saw the trade center ruins and told the federal marshals transporting him: "It is smoking good."

Moussaoui testified that had he not been arrested he would have tried to fly into the White House on a fifth hijacked plane.

That claim was contradicted by alleged September 11 architect Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, whose testimony was read from a written interrogation summary.

Mohammed said Moussaoui "was never slated to be a 9/11 operative" and the sequel was on the "back burner."

Moussaoui identified Reid as one of his team members. Both men lived in London in the 1990s and attended the Finsbury Park mosque, reportedly an al Qaeda recruiting hub.

Reid was subdued by passengers in December 2001 when he attempted to set off a bomb in his shoe on board an American Airlines flight from Paris to Miami. The plane was diverted to Boston, where it landed safely and Reid was arrested. He is serving a life prison term.

Reid has written Moussaoui at least once during their incarceration.

The courtroom was packed and silent as Moussaoui took the stand against the wishes of his lawyers. Four 9/11 family members occupied the courtroom's third row and the jurors sat at attention, their pens and notepads poised.

There were no dramatic outbursts and no speeches. But by the time he stepped down three hours later, Moussaoui seemed to have undone more than four years of work by his defense team.

No remorse

Under cross examination, Moussaoui repeatedly expressed no remorse for what happened on September 11.

Referring to Moussaoui's glimpse of trade center rubble, prosecutor Rob Spencer asked, "You were happy that happened?"

"That's correct," Moussaoui said.

Moussaoui also said he had "rejoiced" at hearing a United Flight 93 attendant beg for her life on a recovered flight recorder.

Earlier, under questioning by one of his attorneys, Gerald Zerkin, Moussaoui dispelled the idea that he was intended to be the 20th hijacker -- the missing fifth man on Flight 93, which crashed in a Pennsylvania field.

Moussaoui admitted his "dream," sanctioned by al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, to crash a plane into the White House, when he pleaded guilty 11 months ago to joining the conspiracy. But at that time, he said the White House attack was to follow 9/11.

He testified that his knowledge of the conspiracy was compartmentalized and that he had "specific involvement only for my own plane."

Prosecutors contend that Moussaoui, 37, a French citizen of Moroccan heritage, deserves to die. Had he not lied after his arrest, they contend, investigators could have uncovered the September 11 conspiracy.

Asked by his lawyer why he lied, Moussaoui replied, "Because I am al Qaeda."

'You're allowed to lie for jihad'

"The Prophet says, 'war is deceit,' " Moussaoui later told prosecutor Robert Spencer. "You're allowed to lie for jihad. You're allowed any technique to defeat your enemy."

After Moussaoui's testimony, the defense introduced the statements from Mohammed.

Moussaoui was a "problem from the start," Mohammed said. He eventually ordered plot coordinator Ramzi Binalshibh to wire Moussaoui money for flight school and cut off ties.

Moussaoui had a hard time following instructions and was "lax with operational security," sending too many e-mails and making too many phone calls, according to Mohammed's testimony.

The potential targets for the second wave of attacks -- the White House, the Sears Tower in Chicago, Illinois, the U.S. Bank Tower in Los Angeles, California -- were not even finalized, he said.

The only question for the jury is whether Moussaoui will be put to death or spend the rest of his life in prison.

To condemn him to death, jurors must agree that he committed an act that contributed to at least one of the 2,793 deaths on September 11.

Prosecutors contend Moussaoui's lies to federal agents who arrested him in mid-August 2001 after he aroused suspicions at a Minnesota flight school furthered the conspiracy.

"I believe in destiny," Moussaoui told jurors. "I just have to speak the truth, and God will take care of the rest."

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