Skip to main content

Al Qaeda operative's fate rests with jury

U.S. says Zacarias Moussaoui 'lied with lethal intent'

From Phil Hirschkorn

Zacarias Moussaoui is the only person to stand trial in the U.S. in connection with the 9/11 attacks.



Capital Punishment
September 11 attacks
Zacarias Moussaoui

ALEXANDRIA, Virginia (CNN) -- Jurors began deliberations Wednesday to determine whether al Qaeda operative Zacarias Moussaoui should face the death penalty for lying to federal agents before the September 11, 2001, attacks.

Jurors heard two hours of closing arguments before U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema instructed the nine men and three women on how to reach their verdict.

"Zacarias Moussaoui came to this country to kill as many Americans as he could," said prosecutor David Raskin. He told jurors Moussaoui "killed people by lying and concealing a plot."

"People died in these attacks, and they'd be alive today if he told the truth," Raskin said. "If the defendant had just told the truth, the leadership of this country would have turned everybody loose to find his al Qaeda brothers."

Defense attorney Edward MacMahon said Moussaoui's testimony admitting a role in the terror attacks could not be believed.

"Moussaoui was never slated, other than in his dreams, to be in the 9/11 plot," he said.

He urged jurors to consider Moussaoui's testimony at the trial a "tall tale, a whopper," even for an al Qaeda member who says he's at war with the United States.

MacMahon called his client an "arrogant, dangerous, stubborn man" who told a "plethora of lies" on the witness stand "to aggrandize himself."

He said Moussaoui is "trying to write himself a role in history when he's an al Qaeda hanger-on and a nuisance."

Did lies cost lives?

The jury must decide the question of whether lives may have been saved had Moussaoui conveyed truthful information when he was questioned three weeks before the attacks.

Moussaoui pleaded guilty 11 months ago to all six terrorism conspiracy charges against him, and until he testified during the trial he maintained he had no advance knowledge of or role in the 9/11 plot.

But Moussaoui told the jury Monday that he had known beforehand of the plot to target the twin towers of the World Trade Center and would have piloted a fifth plane into the White House -- information he withheld from the federal agents who interrogated him. (Watch what Moussaoui's fellow al Qaeda members had to say about him -- 2:06)

He said his "dream" to crash a plane into the White House was intended to come true on September 11, 2001.

The court heard Tuesday that Moussaoui did not want to spend the rest of his life in the super-maximum security federal prison in Florence, Colorado, the only option if he does not receive the death penalty.

"He stated it was different to die in battle like an F-16 pilot than dying in jail," FBI agent Jim Fitzgerald testified.

"He offered to testify against himself for the government," Fitzgerald said. At that time, Moussaoui asked only for better jail conditions and did not ask that the death penalty option be dropped from the case.

The government offered no deal, Fitzgerald said, in part because Moussaoui refused to testify against other al Qaeda members.

Before his arrest on an immigration violation, Moussaoui urgently sought Boeing 747 simulator training. The suspicions he aroused at the Minnesota school prompted managers there to tip off the FBI.

Two-part trial

Moussaoui's trial has been divided into two parts. In the first part, now ending, the jury must answer only whether Moussaoui's false statements to federal agents after his August 2001 arrest contributed to any of the nearly 3,000 deaths caused by the 9/11 attacks.

If the jury unanimously finds Moussaoui's lies resulted in deaths, relatives of 9/11 victims will be heard along with testimony about Moussaoui's mental health, and a second phase would decide if he should be executed.

Over the past three weeks, prosecutors contended Moussaoui lied about why he was in flight school, covered up his associates and financial sources, and refused access to his belongings, which held clues to both. As a result, they said, he furthered the conspiracy to hijack and crash planes into prominent buildings.

"It's terrorism training 101," prosecutor Raskin said. "Al Qaeda trains its people to lie. The defendant had a right to remain silent. But once he started talking, he had an obligation to tell the truth."

Moussaoui's lawyer argued that other 9/11 conspirators didn't have confidence in Moussaoui. No matter what Moussaoui may have told federal agents, defense attorney MacMahon said, the information would not have been used to stop the attacks.

"We will never know what could have happened in the 25 days between Mr. Moussaoui's arrest and the attacks," MacMahon said. "The government needs jurors who've seen 'The Wizard of Oz' all the way through and still think there's a wizard."

Story Tools
Subscribe to Time for $1.99 cover
Top Stories
Get up-to-the minute news from CNN gives you the latest stories and video from the around the world, with in-depth coverage of U.S. news, politics, entertainment, health, crime, tech and more.
Top Stories
Get up-to-the minute news from CNN gives you the latest stories and video from the around the world, with in-depth coverage of U.S. news, politics, entertainment, health, crime, tech and more.

© 2007 Cable News Network.
A Time Warner Company. All Rights Reserved.
Terms under which this service is provided to you.
Read our privacy guidelines. Contact us. Site Map.
Offsite Icon External sites open in new window; not endorsed by
Pipeline Icon Pay service with live and archived video. Learn more
Radio News Icon Download audio news  |  RSS Feed Add RSS headlines