Man Indicted for Sept. 11 Attacks

In the first criminal indictment stemming from Sept. 11, a federal grand jury on Tuesday charged a Frenchman who was jailed a month before the attacks with conspiring with Osama bin Laden to murder thousands in the suicide hijackings.

The 30-page indictment against Zacarias Moussaoui, 33, who was born in France of Moroccan descent, laid out in copious detail an international plot dating to 1998 that involved the 19 hijackers, bin Laden, top al-Qaida deputies and tens of thousand of dollars.

Moussaoui was charged with six felonies, including four that carry the death penalty. The indictment sets the stage for a trial in a federal courtroom in the Virginia suburbs of Washington rather than a military tribunal.

"The United States of America has brought the awesome weight of justice against the terrorists who brutally murdered innocent Americans," Attorney General John Ashcroft said in announcing the indictment on the three month anniversary of the deadly hijackings.

"Al-Qaida will now meet the justice it abhors and the judgment it fears."

Ashcroft called Moussaoui an "active participant" with the 19 hijackers who crashed four jetliners in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania, killing thousands.

Though jailed since Aug. 17 in Minnesota after raising suspicions while seeking flight training, Moussaoui had worked in concert with bin Laden associates to carry out the attacks, the attorney general alleged.

The indictment said Moussaoui's activities mirrored those of the 19 hijackers - he attended flight school, opened a bank account with cash, joined a gym, purchased knives, bought flight deck videos and looked into crop dusting planes.

"Moussaoui followed many of the same patterns and took many of the same steps as the 19 hijackers," FBI Director Robert Mueller said.

The indictment charged Moussaoui "with conspiring with Osama bin Laden and al-Qaida to murder thousands of innocent people in New York, Virginia and Pennsylvania on Sept. 11."

Moussaoui faces arraignment Jan. 2 on six charges of conspiracy: terrorism, aircraft piracy, destruction of aircraft, use of weapons of mass destruction, murder and destruction of property.

The indictment also identifies bin Laden, his top lieutenant Ayman al-Zawahri and other alleged member of al-Qaida as unindicted co-conspirators.

Among the unindicted co-conspirators was Ramsi Binalshibh, a Yemeni fugitive who lived in Germany with some of the hijackers. Mueller has said Binalshibh was supposed to be the 20th hijacker on Sept. 11, but failed to make it into the United States.

The indictment noted that the hijacker who piloted one of the jets that crashed in Pennsylvania on Sept. 11 had tried to get Binalshibh enrolled in a Florida flight school a year before the attacks.

The indictment also suggests that when Binalshibh was denied entry into America, Moussaoui was supposed to step in.

Binalshibh wired $14,000 to Moussaoui in early August. Several days later, Moussaoui paid $6,300 in cash to a flight school in Minnesota.

The Bush administration used the indictment - which Ashcroft called a "chronicle of evil" - to lay out broad evidence against bin Laden and his al-Qaida network dating to the 1980s. It identified several urgings the Muslim extremist made over the years to attack U.S. interests.

The indictment alleged bin Laden despised U.S. military involvement in the Gulf War and Somalia, and had tried several times since at least 1992 "to obtain the components of nuclear weapons."

"Bin Laden declared a jihad, or holy war, against the United States, which he has carried out though al-Qaida and its affiliated organization," the indictment charged.

Moussaoui, 33, is being held in New York and has not cooperated with authorities. The indictment said in an initial interview with federal agents on Aug. 17, he "attempted to explain his presence in the United States by falsely stating that he was simply interested in learning to fly."

Moussaoui's court-appointed attorney, Donald DuBoulay in New York, said Tuesday he hadn't yet read the indictment and wouldn't comment. "They informed everybody else, except the lawyer of course," DuBoulay said.

The administration opted against using a military tribunal - which some foreign allies and U.S. civil liberty groups have criticized - to try Moussaoui in secret. Instead, it chose the Alexandria, Va., courthouse near where one of the jets crashed into the Pentagon.

A senior White House official said Ashcroft and Bush discussed the pending indictment Monday and the attorney general explained why he was seeking a civilian trial.

Bush asked several questions about the government's ability to protect intelligence sources during an open trial, then agreed there wasn't a need for a tribunal, the official said, speaking only on condition of anonymity.

The source said Bush and Ashcroft left open the possibility of revisiting the issue.

The indictment traced the hijacking plot to 1998 when Moussaoui sought training at a bin Laden camp in Afghanistan and suspected hijacking ringleader Mohamed Atta and three other created an al-Qaida terrorist cell in Hamburg, Germany.

Over the next three years, the indictment identified several events that it said were crucial to the plot, including tens of thousand of dollars in money transferred to the hijackers from a man named Mustafa Ahmed al-Hawsawi in the United Arab Emirates.

Ahmed was named as an unindicted co-conspirator.

Moussaoui was detained on immigration charges after officials at the Minnesota flight school where he sought lessons grew suspicious and called authorities. He wanted to learn how to take off and land but not fly, Mueller has said.

The FBI wanted to search his computer then but was unable to get approval until after Sept. 11. The search showed Moussaoui had gathered information about "dispersal of chemicals" and crop-duster planes.

The discovery prompted the administration to temporarily ground crop-dusters as a precaution against a possible biochemical terrorist attack.

Investigators also found telephone numbers for Binalshibh in a notebook belonging to Moussaoui.

(Copyright 2001 by the Associated Press. All rights reserved.

Last Updated: Dec 11, 2001

 Saturday, October 05, 2002 Interactive
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