January 1 , 2002

Moussaoui to Enter Plea on Sept. 11 Charges

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -- Zacarias Moussaoui, the first man to be indicted on charges involving the Sept. 11 attacks, is due in court on Wednesday to enter a plea on charges of conspiring with Osama bin Laden and others to murder thousands of people.

Moussaoui, a 33-year-old French citizen of Moroccan descent, will be arraigned in a U.S. federal court in Alexandria, Virginia, on charges set out in a Dec. 11 indictment. U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema may set a date for the trial to begin.

Moussaoui's court-appointed lawyers have not said how their client will plead, but Moussaoui has previously said he was innocent and his mother maintained that claim after arriving in the United States last week.

A grand jury in Virginia last month returned an indictment against Moussaoui on charges of conspiring with Saudi-born dissident bin Laden and his al Qaeda network to kill thousands of people on Sept. 11.

The six-count indictment includes four charges that carry a maximum punishment of the death penalty. The other two carry a maximum sentence of life in prison.

In the indictment Moussaoui is accused of conspiring with the 19 hijackers who crashed planes into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and a Pennsylvania field on Sept. 11, killing nearly 3,300 people.

``This is the first indictment that has been brought against the terrorists of Sept. 11,'' said Susan Dryden, spokeswoman for the Justice Department. ``Zacarias Moussaoui is alleged to have been an active participant in the Sept. 11 conspiracy, alongside the 19 terrorists who carried it out.''

The indictment charged Moussaoui with conspiracy to commit acts of terrorism, to commit aircraft piracy, to destroy aircraft, to use weapons of mass destruction, to murder U.S. employees and to destroy property.

U.S. officials have said Moussaoui may have been preparing to be a member of one of the hijacking teams. The plane that crashed into the Pennsylvania field had only four hijackers on board while the other three planes had five hijackers.

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

After the Sept. 11 attacks, Moussaoui was arrested as a material witness and sent to New York for questioning, where he had been held in custody before being sent to Virginia to face trial.

Brinkema, the judge who will hear the case, issued an order last week setting out a timeline for various aspects of the trial. She said the U.S. government has until March 29 to say whether it plans to seek the death penalty for Moussaoui and set an April 4 date for oral arguments on the issue.

She also said the parties involved should be prepared to discuss proposed dates for pretrial hearings and the trial at the arraignment.

Moussaoui's mother, Aicha el-Wafi, arrived in Virginia last Thursday and told reporters her son was innocent and urged the government not to make him into a scapegoat.

Copyright 2002. Reuters. All rights reserved.

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