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In Deal, Moussaoui's Ex-Roommate Agrees to Testify

October 23, 2002|John J. Goldman | Times Staff Writer

NEW YORK -- A former roommate of Zacarias Moussaoui who admitted he lied to FBI agents was sentenced Tuesday to time already served after promising he would testify against the so-called 20th hijacker.

As part of the agreement, Hussein al-Attas, 24, who pleaded guilty in July, will remain in prison as a material witness until the end of the year.

Prosecutors said they had no evidence that Al-Attas was a member of any conspiracy to murder U.S. citizens, use weapons of mass destruction or planned to participate in terrorist activities.

If called as a witness at Moussaoui's trial next year, Al-Attas is expected to tell a jury about sharing an apartment with Moussaoui for a month during the summer of 2001 in Norman, Okla. Moussaoui, who is a suspect in the Sept. 11 plot, briefly attended a flight school there. Al-Attas, a citizen of Yemen, then drove his roommate to another flight school in Minnesota, where Moussaoui enrolled in a course to study big jets.

The FBI arrested Moussaoui and Al-Attas in Eagan, Minn. on Aug. 16, 2001. While Moussaoui remained in jail, Al-Attas was able to post bond, but was arrested again on Sept. 11. He was brought to New York City six days later, where a grand jury was investigating the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

"I want to apologize for my regrettable actions," Al-Attas wrote in a letter to U.S. District Judge Michael Mukasey, who sentenced him Tuesday to time served plus two years of probation.

"I was in a state of shock and confusion when I lied to law enforcement agents, but that does not excuse my unlawful actions," he said.

"All I want to do is distance myself from a situation that really didn't involve me," he added. "Still, I should have been truthful and let the truth take care of me."

Al-Attas admitted not telling the truth when he denied planning to travel to New York City with Moussaoui, using a firearm at a target range, and making plans to visit Pakistan to learn about the concept of holy war.

In a separate letter to the judge, Alexander E. Eisemann, the chief defense lawyer for Al-Attas, said his client was a "good person who reacted inappropriately when he found himself in the wrong place at the wrong time."

Eisemann said that Al-Attas had no idea the "ghastly and shocking events of Sept. 11 would occur."

In a plea agreement with prosecutors signed July 22, Al-Attas admitted giving false statements, including lying about whether he knew that Moussaoui wanted to take part in jihad. Moussaoui is charged with conspiring to help the 9/11 hijackers.

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