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Al Qaeda witnesses saw Moussaoui as a bumbler

Defense works to refute client's damaging testimony

From Phil Hirschkorn

Zacarias Moussaoui is the only person tried in the United States in connection with the 9/11 attacks.



Zacarias Moussaoui
September 11 attacks
Capital Punishment

ALEXANDRIA, Virginia (CNN) -- Al Qaeda witnesses portrayed Zacarias Moussaoui as a liar and a bumbler Tuesday, as his defense team tried to refute Moussaoui's own damaging testimony.

Life or death for Moussaoui may come down to the unflattering statements of his fellow al Qaeda operatives.

Moussaoui told a federal court jury Monday that he had direct knowledge of and had a role in the September 11, 2001, attacks -- circumstances that prosecutors argue warrant the death penalty.

But Moussaoui's defense team -- lawyers the defendant says he does not trust -- worked to minimize his role in the plot before resting on Tuesday afternoon.

Attorneys will begin delivering their closing arguments Wednesday afternoon.

The defense spent much of the day presenting written summaries of what key al Qaeda leaders in U.S. custody told interrogators. The statements, read aloud in court, indicated that Moussaoui was not a part of 9/11, contradicting the defendant's testimony.

A statement attributed to senior al Qaeda leader Saif al-Adel that said while Moussaoui was a "jihadist," he "was absolutely not going to take part" in the 9/11 plot.

A statement attributed to al Qaeda's former top operative in Southeast Asia, Riduan Isamuddin, also known as Hambali, described Moussaoui as "very troubled, not right in the head, and having a bad character."

'Managed to annoy everyone'

During a 2000 visit to Malaysia, "Moussaoui managed to annoy everyone he came into contact with," Hambali said. "Moussaoui was constantly suggesting operations the rest of them thought were ridiculous."

Tawfiq Bin Atash, a senior al Qaeda operative considered the mastermind of the USS Cole bombing in 2000, also assisted the 9/11 plot. He said Moussaoui called him every day on a phone al Qaeda reserved for emergencies. As a result, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed told him to break contact with Moussaoui.

Mustafa al-Hawsawi, a United Arab Emirates-based paymaster who helped several of the 9/11 hijackers come to the United States, said "none of the other brothers spoke of" Moussaoui.

Tuesday's testimony backs a statement jurors heard Monday from the architect of the plot, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, who called Moussaoui "a problem from the start."

Moussaoui told the jury that before his arrest in August 2001 he was aware that the World Trade Center was on al Qaeda's target list and he was training to fly a Boeing 747 into the White House.

Moussaoui said his mission was not for a potential second wave of hijackings but for a fifth targeted flight on September 11. He denied that he was supposed to be a fifth hijacker on United Flight 93, which crashed in Shanksville, Pennsylvania.

'Never slated' for 9/11 role

But according to Mohammed's interrogation summary, Moussaoui "was never slated to be a 9/11 operative."

"Moussaoui was a problem from the start," Mohammed told interrogators.

Mohammed, who led al Qaeda's operations until his capture in Pakistan three years ago, also said a plan for a second wave of hijackings, using passport holders from non-Arab states, was "only in its most preliminary stages." The potential targets included the White House and Sears Tower in Chicago, Illinois.

Prosecutors assert that Moussaoui gave false statements following his arrest, covered up his associates and financial sources and refused access to his belongings, furthering the conspiracy to hijack and crash planes into prominent buildings. As a result, prosecutors argue, he directly contributed to some of the 2,793 deaths on 9/11.

Before resting its case, the defense showed the jury how at least a dozen U.S. intelligence reports between 1994 and 2001 cited the threat of airplanes being used as weapons and Osama bin Laden's interest in using commerical pilots as terrorists.

Between May and July 2001, the National Security Agency intercepted 33 communications referring to "imminent" and "spectacular" attacks, yet with no specific targets.

The Federal Aviation Administration was aware of the threat, but its own security directives described the prospect of a hijacked plane being flown into a building a "last resort" and the "most probable" locations for hijackings as overseas. The concept of suicide hijackings "appears to be unlikely," the FAA found.

The CIA and FBI deemed the prospects of a domestic hijacking "relatively low," documents showed.

The jury was told the CIA did not know before September 11 about the "Phoenix Memo," a warning by an FBI field agent in Arizona there was a "the possibility of coordinated effort" by al Qaeda to insert a "cadre" of terrorist operatives in U.S. flight schools.

FBI headquarters failed to recall the memo, jurors learned, when it received a Minnesota agent's request for a warrant to search Moussaoui's belongings. Moussaoui was arrested after arousing suspicion at a flight school.

U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema told jurors to expect to begin deliberations Wednesday afternoon following closing arguments and her instructions.

The jury initially will deliberate only whether Moussaoui is "eligible" for the death penalty. If the jury agrees, the trial will continue to a second phase.

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