Moussaoui escapes death sentence

Zacarias Moussaoui, the only person convicted in a US court in connection with the September 11, 2001, terror attacks should spend his life in prison instead of being executed for his role in the hijacked airliner attacks, a jury decided today.

"America you lost!" Moussaoui shouted as he left the courtroom after hearing the verdict. He clapped his hands and yelled, "I won!" The 37-year-old French citizen of Moroccan descent will be formally sentenced on Thursday.

The verdict was read by US District Judge Leonie Brinkema at the courthouse in Alexandria, Virginia, not far from the Pentagon, the site of one of the 2001 attacks. It was read simultaneously before television cameras outside the courthouse by spokesman Edward Adams.

Moussaoui sat praying silently as Brinkema read the verdict. He appeared to relax in his seat after she read that the jurors did not unanimously agree that a sentence of death should be imposed.

The jury did not find that Moussaoui's actions resulted in the deaths of about 3000 people on that September day -- a central part of the government's demand for the death penalty.

"No jurors found that the execution of Zacarias Moussaoui will create a martyr for radical Muslim fundamentalists and to al Qaeda in particular," Adams said.

"Three jurors found that Zacarias Moussaoui's role in the 9/11 operation, if any, was minor," he said.

Nine jurors also gave weight to Moussaoui's unstable early childhood and dysfunctional family life, part of a defence presented by lawyers on their client's behalf.

The government, which had demanded the death penalty, has seen other high-profile cases in its war on terrorism deflate.

Federal prosecutors had asked the jury to sentence Moussaoui to death. But jurors, who spent about 41 hours deliberating before reaching the verdict, were divided on whether he should be executed.

Earlier this month the same jury of nine men and three women found Moussaoui eligible for the death penalty. The jury verdict followed a second, two-week phase of the sentencing trial.

Moussaoui was arrested three weeks before the September 11 attacks and said he was meant to pilot a fifth plane into the White House as part of the plot.

He pleaded guilty to six counts of conspiracy, three of which carried a maximum death sentence.

Earlier in his trial, Moussaoui said he had no remorse for the September 11 attacks in which about 3000 people died.

- REUTERS

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