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Moussaoui Is Warned About Threatening Notes

The alleged Sept. 11 conspirator could lose his right to represent himself, judge says.

November 07, 2003|Richard A. Serrano | Times Staff writer

WASHINGTON — A federal judge said she would hold Zacarias Moussaoui, the alleged Sept. 11 plotter, in contempt of court and bar him from representing himself in court if he continued to send her handwritten messages containing "veiled" and "overt" threats against public officials and foreign governments.

In an order released Thursday, U.S. District Judge Leonie M. Brinkema said that she had received more than 20 writings from Moussaoui since Oct. 27 and that he was violating his right to represent himself by pretending the messages were legal briefs.

"The defendant has been warned on numerous occasions that he could lose his right to represent himself in this case if he abused that right," said Brinkema. "His conduct over the past two weeks is clear evidence of such abuse."

Brinkema, echoing an increasing exasperation also expressed by federal prosecutors, had periodically made public Moussaoui's messages but said she would no longer do so because the filings were "frivolous, scandalous, disrespectful or repetitive pleadings" that did not belong in the court file.

"They include veiled, and in some cases overt, threats to public officials, attacks on foreign governments, attempts to communicate with persons overseas and efforts to obtain materials unrelated to this case."

In the future, she said, "they will simply be archived and maintained under seal."

The case is being heard in federal court in Alexandria, Va.

Frank Dunham, the public defender assigned to Moussaoui's case, said he expected that Moussaoui would now refrain from sending more messages.

"He doesn't want to lose his pro se status" representing himself, Dunham said. "That would bother him. That's his voice. He's afraid we're not on his side and that we're really with the prosecutors, out to get him."

However, Dunham said, it all depends on "if he's in control of himself."

Moussaoui, arrested on immigration charges a month before the Sept. 11 attacks, was later indicted as a suspected participant in the plot. Although government prosecutors have maintained that they do not officially consider him the so-called 20th hijacker, they portray him as a key player in either the Sept. 11 strikes or a second terror attack that was to follow.

Senior Al Qaeda leaders reportedly have told the government that Moussaoui was to have been part of a second wave of attacks -- a position Moussaoui has said in his written messages is true.

He often refers to himself as a "Slave of Allah" and the United States as "United Satan." He praises Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden as "My Commander in Chief." He also routinely castigates his standby defense attorneys and the prosecutors.

He has challenged President Bush to a fistfight. He has offered Atty. Gen. John Ashcroft a front-row seat at his execution. "Only joking, it is not going to happen," he added.

And he has repeatedly asked for a first-class seat on a jetliner leaving the United States, as long as there are no women aboard and the plane does not permit liquor or smoking.

He also has not spared the judge. "Born to Lie. Born to Cheat. Born to Kill. That Leonie," he wrote to her in January.

In many of his filings, he has insisted that he should be allowed to meet with several alleged Al Qaeda leaders now being held that he says will show he had no role in the Sept. 11 conspiracy.

The judge has agreed that he should be granted access to the captives to defend himself. But because the government has refused to accommodate him, she has thrown out the death penalty and any reference to the Sept. 11 plot in the case.

The government is appealing that ruling.

In one message in January, Moussaoui wrote that the captives were "crucial to establish the existence of a completely different conspiracy that 'might not' even take place against the US after all my favorite target are the Jews."

In legal papers filed last week with the U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Va., prosecutors said Moussaoui had made "several incriminating admissions" in open court.

In July 2002, they said, he "boasted" that "I participated in, in Al Qaeda. I am a member of Al Qaeda.... I pledge bayat [allegiance] to Osama bin Laden."

Another time, they said, he admitted, "I have certain knowledge about Sept. 11, and I know exactly who done it. I know which group, who participated, when it was decided. I have many information."

Prosecutors also cited this statement: "I, Zacarias Moussaoui, urge, incite, encourage, solicit Muslim to kill Americans, civilian or military, any where around the world.... Kill American, anywhere, anyhow, anytime until they get the point out of the Holy Land."

In other action Thursday, the judge said that if the appellate court reinstated the death penalty against Moussaoui, the trial should begin no sooner than 180 days after that decision. If the appellate court did not reinstate the penalty, proceedings should begin within 90 days.

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