Prosecutor in Moussaoui case raised possibility of more would-b

Saturday, August 9, 2003

ALEXANDRIA, Va. -- Terrorism suspect Zacarias Moussaoui was part of a conspiracy to fly an airliner into the White House, a prosecutor alleged in a transcript released Friday, raising the possibility of other would-be hijackers.

While previous court documents said Moussaoui spoke of plans to crash a plane into the White House, it was unclear how he could do so without help if the 19 hijackers involved in the Sept. 11 attack were committed to four other airplanes.

"It was going to involve others," Karas said at a Jan. 30 court hearing, without further elaboration. "The fact that he didn't know the precise whereabouts or even if we can assume he didn't know the names of the people doesn't mean he doesn't know the objects of the conspiracy."

Moussaoui "was keenly aware of why he was here," prosecutor Kenneth Karas said, responding to defense lawyers' arguments that the French citizen didn't know about al-Qaida's plot to fly planes into U.S. buildings.

Moussaoui, an acknowledged al-Qaida loyalist, is accused of participating in a terror war against the United States. The overt acts alleged in the indictment did not confine the conspiracy to the 19 attackers and four airplanes that crashed into the World Trade Center towers, the Pentagon and the Pennsylvania countryside.

Broad conspiracy

The charges mention a broad conspiracy that included religious edicts to kill U.S. soldiers in Somalia, training al-Qaida terrorists for a holy war and attempts by al-Qaida to obtain components of nuclear weapons.

"Thus, even if al-Qaida never intended to put Moussaoui on one of the four planes on Sept. 11, he would nonetheless be guilty of the charges specified in the indictment," the government said in one document.

Karas said on Jan. 30 "the evidence is clear" that Moussaoui had accomplices in a plan to fly a fifth attack plane, although he did not make clear whether the alleged operation was planned for Sept. 11.

Indeed, prior defense filings said Moussaoui contended he was part of a post-Sept. 11 operation outside the United States.

The prosecutor named one of those who provided evidence as Faiz Bafana, a member of Jemaah Islamiya, a Southeast Asian group that Indonesian authorities are investigating in the bombing of a Marriott hotel this week in Jakarta.

Moussaoui met with Bafana in Malaysia in 2000 and "talked freely ... about a dream he had to fly an airplane into the White House," defense documents have said.

However, the defense lawyers said Bafana did not take Moussaoui seriously.

Edward MacMahon, a defense team member, tried at the January hearing to cast doubt on the prosecutor's statements, declaring that Moussaoui -- who was arrested in August 2001 while taking flight lessons -- wasn't capable of flying a plane anywhere.

'The worst pilot'

"Mr. Moussaoui couldn't even fly a paper airplane," MacMahon said. "He was the worst pilot. ... He couldn't get a Cessna up off the ground." Moussaoui's court-appointed defense lawyers are representing his legal interests even though he is serving as his own lawyer.

The transcript of the Jan. 30 hearing and other court documents were made public Thursday and Friday by U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema. Most were released with numerous deletions to remove secret material.

At the Jan. 30 hearing, Brinkema ruled that Moussaoui had the right to question the alleged Sept. 11 organizer, Ramzi Binalshibh, who is being held in an undisclosed location abroad. Moussaoui has contended that Binalshibh and other al-Qaida captives could back up his claim that he was not involved with the attacks.

In a hearing a few days later, Brinkema acknowledged that her order, if affirmed by a higher court, would probably lead the government to move the case out of her civilian court.

Her comment, in a closed hearing Feb. 3, confirmed that she believed what many legal scholars have been saying: The government would move the case to a military tribunal before it would allow an al-Qaida defendant to question a fellow operative in Osama bin Laden's terrorist network.

"I understand, at least I think I understand, that if the court is affirmed by the 4th Circuit (Court of Appeals), the impression I have is that the United States is not going to go forward with this case," said Brinkema.

"That may or may not be the case, but that's sort of the inference of what I've heard," said Brinkema, who had had ruled that Moussaoui had a constitutional right to question a potentially favorable witness.

The judge did not mention transfer of the case to a military tribunal, but the government would almost certainly take that step should it decide not to proceed in a civilian courtroom with the only U.S. case to arise from the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

The case has been stalled by the legal tug-of-war between the government's need to safeguard national security and Moussaoui's right to speak with witnesses who might help his case.

Brinkema said in a Feb. 5 hearing, "I know of no asterisk that goes by a case because it involves acts of terrorism or claims of acts of terrorism."

A 4th Circuit panel in Richmond, Va., already heard oral arguments on the witness access question but said it would not intervene immediately.

Rather, the appellate judges want Brinkema to take the next step: deciding how to penalize the government for refusing her order to produce the prisoner, Binalshibh. He would be questioned through a satellite hookup.

Brinkema has a number of options, including throwing out some charges, barring the government from introducing some evidence, informing a jury of the government's disobedience or even dismissing the case.

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