Accused 9/11 figure Moussaoui pleads guilty

ALEXANDRIA, Virginia - Zacarias Moussaoui, the only person charged in the United States in connection with the Sept. 11 attacks, pleaded guilty on Friday to conspiring with al Qaeda members and could get the death penalty.

Moussaoui, a French citizen of Moroccan descent, pleaded guilty to all six counts charging him with conspiracy to commit acts of terrorism, commit aircraft piracy, destroy aircraft, use weapons of mass destruction, murder US employees and destroy property.

The first four counts carry the death penalty as possible punishment for the 36-year-old Moussaoui, who stood in the courtroom wearing a green prison jumpsuit, bearded and balding.

After a detailed explanation of the indictment, his rights and that he faced a maximum penalty of death, US District Judge Leonie Brinkema went through each of the six counts and asked him how he pleaded. Moussaoui calmly and clearly responded "Guilty" every time.

The plea took place the same day that the suspected leader of al Qaeda in Spain, accused of aiding the Sept. 11 hijackers, went on trial with 23 others in Madrid.

Moussaoui had already wanted to plead guilty three years ago, but then changed his mind.

Brinkema ruled on April 20 that she found Moussaoui to be "fully competent to plead guilty to the indictment" after meeting with him and one of his attorneys.

At the hearings in July 2002 when he changed his mind about pleading guilty, Moussaoui said he was not involved in the hijackings, but that he was an al Qaeda member who pledged allegiance to Osama bin Laden.

TRIAL DELAYED

His trial has been delayed by legal wrangling over a number of issues, including his mental fitness, whether he could represent himself and whether he could interview top al Qaeda captives held by the United States at undisclosed locations overseas.

The US Supreme Court a month ago rejected an appeal by Moussaoui, who argued that he could not get a fair trial without access to the al Qaeda captives who could help his defence.

His intended role with al Qaeda has never been clearly explained.

Some US officials initially said they believed Moussaoui was supposed to have taken part in the attacks as the "20th hijacker." Others later said he was supposed to have been part of a "second wave" of attacks that were not carried out.

The indictment said he received the same training and preparation as the 19 hijackers and that the conspiracy involving al Qaeda members "resulted in the deaths of thousands of persons on September 11, 2001."

Moussaoui attended flight training schools in Oklahoma and Minnesota in 2001 and received money from an al Qaeda operative who helped finance the Sept. 11 attacks, according to the indictment.

But just weeks before the attacks, he was jailed in Minnesota on immigration charges after a flight trainer told the FBI that Moussaoui had acted suspiciously.

- REUTERS

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