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Jury: Moussaoui is eligible for death

Al Qaeda operative testified he knew in advance of attacks

From Phil Hirschkorn
CNN

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

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ALEXANDRIA, Virginia (CNN) -- Al Qaeda conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui is eligible for the death penalty, a federal jury decided Monday in the first U.S. trial about the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Jurors agreed with federal prosecutors that Moussaoui's lies to FBI agents resulted in 9/11 deaths.

The nine men and three women reached their verdict on the fourth day of deliberations. (Watch how jury decided points of verdict -- 2:09)

Surrounded by U.S. Marshals, Moussaoui refused to stand and showed no reaction as the verdict was read. After jurors left the courtroom he shouted, "You'll never get my blood. God curse you all."

Six 9/11 family members were in court for the verdict. Lisa Dolan pumped her fist slightly as it was announced.

Her husband, Bob, a U.S. Navy captain, was killed at the Pentagon. "It was important to all the family members that it go onto the next phase so the impact statements are heard," she said.

Carie Lemack, whose mother, Judy Larocque, was aboard the first plane that crashed into the trade center, watched the verdict on a closed-circuit broadcast to families in Boston, where both trade center flights originated.

"We don't want to make him a martyr," she told CNN. "The last thing that a lot of us want to see happen is to allow him to die with the name martyr by his side." (Full story)

Trial continues

"We are pleased with the jury's ruling in this important case," said Justice Department spokeswoman Tasia Scolinos. "Our efforts on behalf of the victims of 9/11 will continue as we pursue the next phase of this trial."

The verdict means the trial, held only to determine Moussaoui's punishment, will proceed to a second phase, with additional witnesses and evidence, beginning Thursday.

The jurors now must decide whether Moussaoui will be executed for his role in the 9/11 deaths.

Moussaoui, 37, a Frenchman of Moroccan descent, admitted last year that he conspired with al Qaeda, the terrorist group responsible for September 11, to hijack and crash planes into prominent U.S. buildings.

Until he testified at the trial, Moussaoui insisted he had no advance knowledge of or role in the plot. But on the witness stand, Moussaoui claimed he knew the World Trade Center was a target and that he would have piloted a fifth jetliner into the White House. (Full story)

In the second phase of the sentencing trial, prosecutors plan to tell the jury stories of dozens of September 11 victims. About 40 relatives will describe the impact of their losses.

Defense witnesses are expected to describe Moussaoui's troubled family history, his struggles with racism and relocation in France and his vulnerability to radical fundamentalist Islamic recruiters. Mental health experts are expected to say Moussaoui is schizophrenic. (Watch Moussaoui's mom talk about his fondness for American films -- 2:22)

Focus on statements

The first phase of the trial revolved around Moussaoui's statements to the FBI following his arrest in mid-August 2001 after arousing suspicions at a Minnesota flight school.

Moussaoui said he was in flight school for fun and was visiting the United States as a tourist. Moussaoui concealed his al Qaeda ties, his real reason for jet simulator training and the hijackings conspiracy itself.

Prosecutors needed to prove Moussaoui lied intentionally and with lethal intent. His surprising testimony, as the last defense witness, became the centerpiece of the trial.

"I didn't say the truth," Moussaoui testified. "Because I am al Qaeda. Because I am at war with this country."

Prosecutor Robert Spencer asked him, "The reason you lied was to allow the people that you knew were in the United States to go forward with the hijackings, right?"

Moussaoui replied, "You can say that."

Moussaoui testified that the Prophet Mohammed, the patriarch of Islam, taught, "War is deceit." Lying is permissible during jihad, or holy war, Moussaoui added. "You are allowed any technique to deceive your enemy."

Although there was no evidence Moussaoui had any contact with the 19 September 11 hijackers in the United States, his actions -- attending flight schools, joining gyms, wearing casual Western clothing, trimming his beard -- echoed theirs.

Moussaoui 'in the middle of it'

"These similarities can't be dismissed as mere coincidence," prosecutor David Raskin said in closing arguments. "He was in the middle of it, just like he told you from the witness stand."

A top aviation security official, Robert Cammaroto, testified that had Moussaoui told the truth in August, the Federal Aviation Administration could have issued security directives banning passengers from carrying short knives, screening luggage and conducting physical searches of passengers and carry-on bags. (Full story)

Cammaroto said had the hijackers' names been revealed, they could have been added to a "no-fly" list.

"Between the FBI and the FAA, none of them would have been able to get on any of those planes," prosecutor Raskin told the jury.

Prosecutors argued that Moussaoui's lies directly resulted in deaths because one hijacking pilot or crew could have been stopped, and some of the 2,973 people killed on September 11 would be alive today.

Defense attorney Edward MacMahon portrayed his client as an untrusted "grifter" who traveled alone, not in pairs like the real hijackers, and did not participate in any coast-to-coast dry run flights. He told jurors to discount Moussaoui's testimony.

'Headache' for al Qaeda

"Moussaoui was never slated other than his dreams to be involved," MacMahon said. "Moussaoui was useless to al Qaeda, a headache, obnoxious to everyone he encountered."

MacMahon told jurors the September 11 attack date was not fixed until after Moussaoui's arrest, and there was no evidence of a fifth targeted plane.

The defense sought to poke holes in the government theory that the pre-9/11 "dysfunctional" government would have responded rapidly to Moussaoui's "truth."

MacMahon said the "could have" scenario is "nothing but a dream" and admonished jurors not to view the case through "post-9/11 glasses."

FBI headquarters thwarted Agent Harry Samit's efforts to obtain search warrants, the evidence showing he sent 70 warnings about Moussaoui.

Two supervisors Samit labeled "criminally negligent" were later promoted. One wrote in an early Moussaoui assessment: "There's no indication of nefarious activity here." (Full story)

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