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'Moussaoui could have prevented 9/11'

The government said Al-Qaeda conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui "lied so that murders could follow".

india Updated: Mar 07, 2006 19:55 IST

Opening its argument for the execution of Al-Qaeda conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui, the government said he "lied so that murders could follow" on Sept. 11, 2001.

The defence portrayed him as a buffoon, isolated even by Al-Qaeda, and urged jurors to deny him the martyrdom of a death sentence.

In a heavily guarded courthouse a few miles from the Pentagon, where some of the 2,972 victims of 9/11 were killed, prosecutor Rob Spencer opened his case by telling the jury that "even though he was in jail on September 11, he did his part as a loyal Al-Qaeda soldier."

"Had he not lied to agents in 2001, the US government would have stopped those deaths, or at least some of them," Spencer asserted.

Court-appointed defence attorney Edward MacMahon, meanwhile, scoffed at that idea. He termed Moussaoui's dreams of being a terrorist as "sound and fury, signifying nothing."

Considered a headache and even called "cuckoo in the head" by one Al-Qaeda leader, Moussaoui "was intentionally isolated from the real hijackers in the United States," MacMahon argued. "Nothing Moussaoui did or said, even a lie, caused anyone to die that day."

Now Moussaoui yearns for martyrdom, MacMahon asserted. "The only way he can appear as a smiling face on an Al-Qaeda recruiting poster is by your verdict," MacMahon told jurors. "Please don't make him a hero. He doesn't deserve it."

The 37-year-old Frenchman of Moroccan descent, who faces either execution or life in prison without release, stroked his beard and intently studied the faces of jurors and the audience during opening statements.

Repeatedly pointing at Moussaoui, here is how Spencer described his role:

He was such an inexperienced pilot, the FBI suspected he might be a terrorist, but Moussaoui told them he was a tourist pursuing a dream.

That lie made him responsible for the deaths "as surely as if he had been at the controls of one of the planes" that Al-Qaeda hijacked and flew into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and a field in Pennsylvania.

If Moussaoui had told the FBI, the same plot details that he described last April when he pleaded guilty to six conspiracy counts, that would have been "all the government needed to know to stop 9/11."

Moussaoui says he conspired with Al-Qaeda to fly planes into US buildings, but he wasn't part of 9/11 and was training instead to fly into the White House as part of a possible later attack.

Had Moussaoui come clean in 2001, Spencer said, the FBI would have used every available agent to track his travels, phone calls and finances.

Spencer claimed that using standard law enforcement techniques on records in Moussaoui's possession, the FBI would have located 11 of the 19 September 11 hijackers.

He also said the government would have kept that list of conspirators off airplanes, and would have altered airport screening to bar small knives and box cutters.

MacMahon argued that Moussaoui knew less about the 9/11 plot than the government did, and the inept government handling of the intelligence it had shows it would never have mounted the flawless probe Spencer described.

"What the government wants you to believe is only a dream," MacMahon said.

He said the U.S. government was told in 1995 that Al-Qaeda terrorists in the Philippines who had participated in the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center were discussing hijacking a commercial jet and flying it into CIA headquarters, but they never changed their aviation security to prevent that.

He pointed out that the government knew two of the 9/11 hijackers were in the United States for months before 9/11 and never put them on a no-fly list.

"Nothing they were told by some Muslim loner in Minnesota would have changed that" response by the government, he ventured. And he said all the other 9/11 hijackers traveled in teams and trained together, but Moussaoui traveled alone, didn't train with them and was never in the presence of a real 9/11 hijacker.

He played videotapes of then-Attorney General John Ashcroft describing how the FBI and CIA didn't share information before 9/11 and of Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice saying any remedy for 9/11 would have had to have been in place years earlier.

The 17 jurors included a high school mathematics teacher who has traveled widely in the Middle East, a Navy veteran of the first Gulf War and an Iranian-born Sunni Muslim woman. The judge will designate five as alternates later.