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Zacarias Moussaoui

Zacarias Moussaoui Sentenced to Life in Prison

A federal jury in Alexandria, Virginia, has sentenced Zacarias Moussaoui, the only person to be tried in the U.S. in connection to the September 11 terrorist attacks, to life in prison without the possibility of parole. 

Moussaoui, 37, who previously pleaded guilty to six conspiracy counts in connection with the September 11 attacks, lied to FBI agents and withheld information after his arrest in August 2001.  Prosecutors have said that financial, travel and phone records concealed by Moussaoui overlapped with records of 11 of the 19 September 11 hijackers. 

The jury was not convinced, however, that Moussaoui had a significant part in the plot and rejected the government’s case to have him executed.

After the verdict was handed down on April 3, 2006, Moussaoui clapped his hands as he was led out of the courtroom and said, “America, you lost. I won.” The following day, during sentencing, he declared, “God curse America and save Osama bin Laden.  You will never get him.”   

A French citizen of Moroccan descent, Moussaoui, an admitted Al Qaeda member, was initially dubbed the “20th hijacker.”  When Moussaoui pleaded guilty last April, however, he admitted preparing another plot to free convicted terrorist mastermind Omar Abdel Rahman, who is serving a life sentence for conspiracy to blow up New York landmarks in 1993. 

Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the mastermind behind the September 11 attacks, also indicated that Moussaoui was not part of the September 11 plot in testimony written up by U.S. intelligence operatives.  Mohammed, who has been in U.S. custody for three years, portrayed Moussaoui as a peripheral figure who might have been asked to take part in a second wave of attacks if needed.

During the penalty phase of the trial, Moussaoui contradicted Mohammed’s statements as well his own earlier testimony, saying that his role on September 11 was to fly a fifth plane into the White House.  He also claimed that Richard Reid, who was sentenced to life in prison in 2003 for trying to blow up a U.S. passenger jet with explosives in his shoes, was to join him in that attack.  

Some observers suggest that Moussaoui changed his story in order to receive the death penalty, and thus achieve martyrdom. 

Throughout the trial, Moussaoui was defiant and unremorseful.  For example, when the jury was shown photos and heard emergency phone calls from September 11, Moussaoui laughed and said that he wished “there would be more pain.”  Earlier, during the pre-trial hearing, Moussaoui said “I pray to Allah [for] the destruction of the United States of America [and for] the destruction of the Jewish people and state.” 

Moussaoui was born on May 30, 1968 in France and spent time in and out of orphanages during the first six years of his life.  Defense witnesses testified that Moussaoui’s early life was marked by family abuse and discrimination.  In 1993, Moussaoui moved to London and attended a local mosque in Brixton.  He then enrolled at the South Bank University, eventually earning a master’s degree in International Business.

By the late 1990s, Moussaoui embraced a brand of militant Islam that eventually resulted in his being asked to leave the more moderate Brixton mosque.  Moussaoui also attended the Finsbury Park mosque in London. Abu Hamza al-Masri, one of the most radical Islamic clerics in Britain, was the imam at the time; al-Masri was sentenced earlier this year to seven years in prison on charges of inciting followers to murder Jews and other non-Muslims and encouraging racial hatred. 

The Finsbury Park mosque was also frequented by Richard Reid, the so-called “shoe bomber” and by Kamel Bourgass, an Algerian citizen convicted in Britain in a conspiracy to launch chemical attacks with the poison ricin.

During his seven years in London, Moussaoui traveled to Pakistan, Turkey and Afghanistan, according to French investigators.  In 1998, Moussaoui attended the Al Qaeda affiliated Khalden terrorist training camp in Afghanistan, according the the indictmnt. Ahmed Ressam, an Algerian sentenced to 22 years in prison for his plot to blow up the Los Angeles International Airport, reportedly attended the camp at the same time. 

In September 2000, Moussaoui reportedly traveled to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, to take flight training at the Malaysian Flying Academy in Malacca. He stayed in a condominium where two of the September 11 hijackers resided in January 2000.  The owner of the condominium, Yazid Sufaatm, was instructed by Riduan Isamuddin (a.k.a. Hambali), a top member of the Al Qaeda-linked terrorist group Jemaah Islamiyah, to provide lodging to Moussaoui. 

Hambali, who has been in U.S. custody since his capture in 2003, eventually sent Moussaoui back to Europe.  Hambali said Moussaoui “managed to annoy everyone he came in contact with,” according to testimony read during Moussaoui’s trial.  Khalid Sheikh Mohammed said he later agreed to send Moussaoui to the U.S. to receive additional flight training, according to testimony read at the trial. 

Moussaoui entered the U.S. in February 2001 and began attending the Airman Flight School in Norman, Oklahoma.  At that time, Moussaoui told Hussein al-Attas, his roommate in Oklahoma, that the only way to get to paradise is through jihad, according to videotape testimony at his sentencing trial.  Al-Attas, who met Moussaoui at a Norman mosque, also testified that Moussaoui urged him to prepare for jihad by traveling to Pakistan for terror training. 

Moussaoui then moved on to Eagan, Minnesota, and enrolled at the Pan Am International Flying Academy.  In Eagan, his flight instructors became suspicious of Moussaoui – he did not want to learn how to take off or land, only how to steer the jet while it was in the air – and called the FBI, which detained Moussaoui in August on immigration charges.  It was at that time that Moussaoui failed to reveal information about the upcoming September 11 terrorist attacks, according to prosecutors.

Moussaoui’s activities in the U.S. parallel those of some of the September 11 hijackers.  A German phone number found in Moussaoui’s possession during his arrest belonged to Ramzi bin al-Shibh in Germany.  Al-Shibh, who allegedly sent Moussaoui $14,000 in two wire transfers, was part of the Al Qaeda cell in Hamburg, which also included September 11 hijacker Mohammed Atta.  Both Atta and Moussaoui attended the same flight academies, along with another hijacker, Marwan al-Shehhi, and both bought instructional videos for a Boeing 747 from Sporty’s Pilot Shop in Batavia, Ohio.

Moussaoui now faces 23 hours a day in confinement at the United States Penitentiary Administrative Maximum Facility in Florence, Colorado.  French officials have indicated that their government may ask the U.S. to allow Moussaoui to serve his sentence in a French jail.



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