Man who sought flight lessons before hijackings is indicted

Wednesday, December 12, 2001

WASHINGTON -- A federal grand jury indicted a French Moroccan for conspiracy in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the first indictment directly related to the suicide hijackings, Attorney General John Ashcroft announced Tuesday.

"Al-Qaida will now meet the justice it abhors and the judgment it fears," Ashcroft said.

The suspect, Zacarias Moussaoui, had raised investigators' suspicions by seeking flight lessons in Minnesota a month before the hijackings.

Ashcroft said the 30-page indictment lists six counts against Moussaoui, four of them punishable by death if he is convicted. He also announced a list of unindicted co-conspirators, including Osama bin Laden.

The indictment was issued by a grand jury in the Eastern District of Virginia, charging Moussaoui "with conspiring with Osama bin Laden and al-Qaida to murder thousands of innocent people in New York, Virginia and Pennsylvania on Sept. 11."

"The indictment issued today is a chronicle of evil," Ashcroft said.

Ashcroft called Moussaoui "an active participant" in the terrorist attacks, and said he was charged with "undergoing the same training, receiving the same funding and pledging the same commitment to kill Americans" as the terrorists on the hijacked planes.

Death penalty

Moussaoui was indicted on six counts, four of which carry the death penalty. The counts were conspiracy to commit acts of terrorism, to commit aircraft piracy, to destroy aircraft, to use weapons of mass destruction, murder and conspiracy to destroy property.

It says he trained at an al-Qaida camp in Afghanistan, received flight training in the United States, received money from sources in Germany and the Middle East and pledged to kill Americans.

Ashcroft said listing some suspects as unindicted coconspirators did not preclude them from facing indictment as the investigation progresses.

Referring to the progress of the military campaign, Ashcroft said that "7,000 miles from the field of battle in Afghanistan, another victory is taking shape in the war on terrorism."

The attorney general called the indictment "an important step in securing justice for the victims of Sept. 11." He said victims had been waiting three months for the terrorists to be brought to account, and that the Justice Department would soon be making available to victims a Web site and toll-free phone number "to follow the progress of this prosecution."

Moussaoui was detained Aug. 17 on immigration charges after officials at a flight school where he sought training grew suspicious and called authorities. He has been held as a material witness in the investigation of the terrorist attacks.

Possible 20th hijacker

U.S. officials had spoken of Moussaoui as possibly an intended 20th member of the hijacking team. But FBI Director Robert Mueller this month told federal prosecutors that a computer owned by Moussaoui did not link him to the Sept. 11 attacks. Mueller then named Ramsi Binalshibh, a Yemeni fugitive, as the man who may have planned to be on United Airlines Flight 93 that crashed in Pennsylvania.

Moussaoui has been the subject of intense scrutiny since the attacks, which occurred while he was in custody. Prosecutors had wanted to search his computer but were unable to get approval for the warrant until after Sept. 11.

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