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Defiant Moussaoui Testifies

Denying that he is crazy, the convicted terrorist tells the jury at his sentencing trial: `I want to kill Americans.'

April 14, 2006|Richard A. Serrano | Times Staff Writer

ALEXANDRIA, Va. — Declaring himself neither insane nor delusional, Zacarias Moussaoui told the jury in his sentencing trial Thursday that he had "no regret, no remorse" for the nearly 3,000 people killed on Sept. 11, and he appeared not to care whether he lived or was put to death.

Moussaoui, testifying for the second time, also repeated his deep hatred for Americans and predicted another major terrorist attack on U.S. soil before the end of President Bush's term. He said the strike would be so catastrophic that the government would be forced to release him from prison.

"I fight," he said. "And God will help me and free me."

The 37-year-old Al Qaeda terrorist occupied the witness stand for nearly three hours. In his lap he fingered his worn copy of the Koran, sometimes flipping the pages to read a verse to the jury that he had marked with Post-it notes.

As in his testimony last month, Moussaoui offered little to help save his life. But this time he gave a much starker impression of a man so filled with hate that he might be mentally ill, as his lawyers contend.

If the jury agrees, he could be spared the death penalty.

Moussaoui was arrested three weeks before Sept. 11, and last year pleaded guilty to participating in the conspiracy that spawned the strikes on New York and Washington. Last week, the jury concluded that he was eligible for the death penalty because he could have prevented the attacks by alerting the FBI.

The current phase of the trial is to decide whether he deserves the death penalty. To establish that, the jury must find that Moussaoui knowingly created a grave risk of death, or that the deaths were especially heinous and cruel, or that he was involved in substantial planning for the attacks.

The prosecution this week has elicited powerful, wrenching testimony from witnesses to the attacks, survivors and family members of victims, and has played tapes of 911 messages from victims in the World Trade Center. On Wednesday, the jury heard the cockpit voice recorder from United Flight 93 as terrorists seized control of the plane and slashed the pilots' throats.

Moussaoui was uncooperative with his defense lawyer, Gerald Zerkin, presenting Zerkin with handwritten questions he wanted him to ask. But he seemed happy to cooperate when cross-examined by the government.

"Are you crazy?" asked lead prosecutor Robert A. Spencer.

"I am not," Moussaoui said.

"Are you delusional?"

"I am not."

Spencer asked him if a suicide attack was an act of madness.

"It is not crazy," he said.

Was he ashamed of his role in the Sept. 11 conspiracy? "There is no remorse for justice," Moussaoui said. " ... No regret. No remorse."

Would he do it again tomorrow? Would he take flying lessons again tomorrow and pilot a hijacked plane into the White House, as he testified last month he had been preparing to do?

"Today," Moussaoui said.

Spencer pressed on. He reminded him of a previous witness, Army Lt. Col. John Thurman, who had barely crawled out alive from the burning Pentagon wreckage on Sept. 11. "I was regretful that he didn't die," Moussaoui said.

Spencer asked how he felt about Navy Lt. Cmdr. Vince Tolbert, who died inside the Pentagon. "Make my day," Moussaoui said.

So you are willing to kill Americans anywhere, Spencer asked -- even in prison? "Anytime, anywhere," Moussaoui said.

And it was your choice to accept Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden's call to join the Sept. 11 plot?

"My pleasure," he answered.

Spencer wondered whether Moussaoui was not playing games on the witness stand. He asked whether Moussaoui had insisted on testifying -- over his lawyers' objections -- only because he knew another terrorist, Oklahoma City bomber Timothy J. McVeigh, had refused to testify in his trial and later was convicted and executed.

Moussaoui said of McVeigh: "The greatest American."

At one point, Zerkin asked Moussaoui, a French Muslim born to Moroccan parents, why he hated Americans so much. He said because the U.S. had supported Israel for more than 50 years. He also contended that the U.S. had killed 600,000 Iraqis in order to maintain a military presence in the Persian Gulf region.

He spoke of attending two radical Muslim mosques in England, but denied he was brainwashed by their fiery anti-American preaching. Rather, he said, his decision to join Al Qaeda and the Sept. 11 conspiracy was made of his own free will.

Yet he understood the repercussions.

"America wanted blood" after Sept. 11, he said. "Everybody wanted to kill me. Just as I want to kill Americans, I believe every American wants to kill me."

Turning to the jury, he added: "You don't want somebody like me out in the streets. You either want me in jail or dead."

He did not ask for leniency, nor did he dare the jurors to make him a martyr by executing him. He did, however, predict that someday a group of U.S. soldiers would be captured in Iraq and, if he was still alive, the ransom would be his freedom.

"They could save American lives by keeping me alive and using me as a bargaining chip," he said.

With Moussaoui done testifying, Judge Leonie M. Brinkema told jurors they could probably begin deliberating the sentence by the middle of next week. The trial resumes Monday.

The defense is expected to call mental health experts to testify about signs that Moussaoui suffers from schizophrenia. The defense also has subpoenaed convicted "shoe bomber" Richard Reid, who is serving a life sentence for trying to blow up an international U.S. flight over the Atlantic Ocean in December 2001. It was unclear whether Reid was likely to testify.

Moussaoui has maintained that Reid was to be part of his hijacking crew on a plane Moussaoui was to fly into the White House on Sept. 11.

On Thursday, Moussaoui said he was acquainted with Reid from a London mosque and Al Qaeda sites in Afghanistan. He smiled broadly when Reid's name was brought up.

"He was my buddy," he said.

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