New York Times
January 3, 2002

Not Guilty Plea Is Set for Man in Terror Case


ALEXANDRIA, Va. -- Invoking the name of Allah, Zacarias Moussaoui refused to enter a plea today to a six-count criminal indictment that accused him of a role in the Sept. 11 terrorist plot. His lawyer and the judge in the case then entered a plea of not guilty for him.

At a half-hour hearing conducted under heavy security at the federal courthouse here, Judge Leonie M. Brinkema of Federal District Court scheduled Oct. 14 to start the trial for Mr. Moussaoui, the first person directly charged in the hijackings. The authorities say they believe that he was meant to be the 20th hijacker.

Under the schedule, jury selection will begin on Sept. 30, a few weeks after the first anniversary of the hijackings. Judge Brinkema rejected arguments by Mr. Moussaoui's court-appointed lawyers that prospective jurors would be influenced by the expected extensive publicity shortly before the trial. The lawyers had sought to have the trial postponed until next year.

At the hearing, Mr. Moussaoui, 33, a French citizen of Moroccan descent, addressed the court once, when asked to enter his plea.

"In the name of Allah, I do not have anything to plead," he said in heavily accented English. "I enter no plea. Thank you very much."

Judge Brinkema replied, "I will interpret that as a plea of not guilty."

In response, Mr. Moussaoui's lead lawyer, Frank W. Dunham Jr., said, "Yes."

The judge scheduled a series of potentially crucial pretrial hearings in what is highly likely to be a complex case. Prosecutors and defense lawyers are widely expected to clash over the government's use of classified information in the trial and the prosecutors' expected effort to seek the death penalty.

Defense lawyers may seek to move the trial from this city a few miles from where one airliner smashed into the Pentagon.

From the wide-ranging scope of the arguments today, it seems evident that the trial will provide the government with its best opportunity so far to lay out its evidence against those responsible for the Sept. 11 attacks and to present its full case against Osama bin Laden and his Qaeda terrorists.

The possibility of a death sentence has turned the case into a greater spectacle, particularly in France, where strong sentiment against using the death penalty against Mr. Moussaoui has brought harsh criticism of the prosecution. Senior Bush administration officials have privately said they were careful to obtain necessary evidence from abroad before indicting Mr. Moussaoui, predicting that other governments might not have cooperated as fully had they known that the United States might seek a death sentence.

A federal grand jury indicted Mr. Moussaoui on Dec. 11 on six counts of conspiracy, four of which carry a possible death penalty. The indictment accuses him of conspiring with Mr. bin Laden and Al Qaeda to kill thousands of people on Sept. 11. Judge Brinkema set March 29 as the deadline for prosecutors to decide on seeking the death penalty.

The indictment said Mr. Moussaoui had engaged in some of the same activities as the 19 hijackers. It said he had visited a Qaeda training camp in Afghanistan, enrolled in flight training, asked about crop dusting and bought knives.

The indictment said Mr. Moussaoui had received payments from a man in Germany, Ramzi Muhammad Abdullah bin al-Shibh, who officials theorize was a paymaster for at least one hijacker and shared an apartment with Mohamed Atta, who the authorities say was the ringleader of the plot.

After speaking today, Mr. Moussaoui, who wore a dark-green jump suit with "PRISONER" across the back, slumped in his chair at the defense table. He said nothing to his lawyers and stared ahead impassively as his lawyers and prosecutors wrangled over hearing dates. Mr. Dunham said Mr. Moussaoui could speak English and did not need an interpreter.

Judge Brinkema swept aside a defense request to postpone the trial until next year, dismissing defense contentions that the complex international nature of the case, publicity and complex classified evidence would require additional time.

Another lawyer for Mr. Moussaoui, Gerald Zerkin, urged the judge to postpone the trial.

"The defense feels it cannot prepare its case for trial in the time proposed by the United States," Mr. Zerkin said. "The need to be further away from Sept. 11 is obvious."

A federal prosecutor, Robert Spencer, said that the trial date was reasonable and that publicity about the hijackings was "going to have to be dealt with by the court no matter when" the trial was held.

Federal marshals ringed the building before the hearing. Mr. Moussaoui was taken to the courthouse four hours before the arraignment, and spectators passed through metal detectors before entering the courtroom.

After the hearing, François Roux, a lawyer for Mr. Moussaoui's mother, Aïcha el-Wafi, told reporters outside the courthouse that Mrs. el-Wafi had decided not to attend because she thought that it would be too upsetting.

"She decided it would be too difficult for her to see her son at the hearing," Mr. Roux said. "She was very upset, and she thinks if she came this morning she would have disturbed her son at this important judicial moment."

Mrs. el-Wafi, who has insisted that her son did nothing wrong, was generally expected to return to France soon.

United States officials have said Mr. Moussaoui may have been preparing to join a hijacking team. The plane that crashed in a Pennsylvania field had four hijackers; the other three aircraft had five each.

Mr. Moussaoui was arrested on Aug. 16 in Minnesota on immigration violations after he had aroused suspicion by trying to buy time at a flight school on a flight simulator for a jumbo jet.

Copyright © 2002, New York Times Company. All rights reserved.

saved from url:

FAIR USE NOTICE: This site contains copyrighted material the use of which has not always been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. We are making such material available in our efforts to advance understanding of criminal justice, political, human rights, economic, democracy, scientific, and social justice issues, etc. We believe this constitutes a 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. For more information go to: If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.

Back to The Crime Line

Back to The Talk Line