ALEXANDRIA, Virginia - Declaring "I'm al Qaeda," Zacarias Moussaoui, the convicted conspirator in the September 11 terror attacks, was removed from court four times yesterday for disrupting jury selection in his sentencing trial.
In the only US case brought in the 2001 attacks, Moussaoui made several outbursts, rejecting his lawyers and prompting his expulsion from the courtroom just minutes into each of four sessions with potential jurors.
"They are not my lawyer. I don't want them to represent me," said Moussaoui, who was dressed in a green jumpsuit with "Prisoner" written on the back.
"I'm al Qaeda, they are Americans, they are my enemies," he said, gesturing at his court-appointed lawyers.
After each outburst, US District Judge Leonie Brinkema ordered Moussaoui, 37, to be removed from the courtroom. He went passively, putting his hands on the back of his head as he was escorted out. As he left one session, he declared, "This trial is a circus."
Against the advice of his lawyers, Moussaoui pleaded guilty last April to six charges against him in connection with the September 11 hijacked airliner attacks that killed about 3,000 people.
A jury is being selected for the penalty phase of the trial to determine whether he will be executed or sentenced to life in prison.
Moussaoui has tried repeatedly to fire his attorneys. He was allowed to represent himself for about 1-1/2 years but Brinkema revoked that permission in 2003 after he kept disobeying her orders and filing inflammatory court motions.
HUNDREDS OF PROSPECTIVE JURORS
About 500 prospective jurors participated in an unusually long selection process. Brinkema has set aside a month to seat an impartial panel for the trial being held just a few km from the Pentagon - one of the targets on September 11.
Final jury selection and opening arguments are scheduled for March 6.
The judge asked prospective jurors to fill out a 49-page questionnaire that included personal questions and others related to terrorism, al Qaeda and the 2001 attacks.
She urged jurors to note on their questionnaires whether they felt they had been influenced by Moussaoui's behaviour in court.
"I want to make sure that if any of you feel that that outburst or the way he conducted himself might affect the way in which you would go about judging this case, you need to clearly put that statement on the juror questionnaire," she said.
The judge ordered that the jurors remain anonymous through the selection phase and trial due to intense media and public interest in the case.
In the trial, jurors first must determine whether Moussaoui intentionally lied to the FBI in interviews before September 11 about his knowledge of the plan to hijack planes.
If the jury decides he did lie, preventing the government from possibly stopping the attacks, another phase of the trial will be held to see whether he should be given the death penalty or life in prison. If the jury finds he did not lie, he faces a sentence of life in prison.
Moussaoui, a French citizen, was detained in Minnesota in August 2001 on immigration charges after raising suspicions at a flight school. He was indicted in December 2001 for conspiracy to carry out the September 11 attacks.