Investigation not getting help from suspect's family
PARIS -- Zacarias Moussaoui's family refused to cooperate with a U.S. justice official on Tuesday as the government sought to build a death penalty case against the only person charged in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
Attorney General John Ashcroft has not given final approval to prosecutors to push for the death penalty, but the Justice Department has until March 29 to make a decision, according to two officials who spoke on condition of anonymity.
In the meantime, prosecutors are getting ready to argue that Moussaoui, who allegedly conspired and trained alongside the Sept. 11 airliner hijackers, should be put to death.
As part of the investigation, Moussaoui's brother, Abd Samad Moussaoui, and his mother, Aicha Moussaoui, said they were asked to speak with a U.S. justice official who is in France.
Moussaoui's brother, as well as Moussaoui's French lawyer, Francois Roux, identified the official as Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert Spencer, of Alexandria, Va., where the suspect was indicted. French police and the U.S. Embassy in Paris refused to name the official.
He was supposed to meet Tuesday with Moussaoui's mother but Aicha Moussaoui failed to appear for the meeting in her hometown of Narbonne, in southern France. Her son appeared for his meeting on Monday but refused to answer any of the prosecutor's questions.
Moussaoui, 33, a French citizen of Moroccan descent, is accused of being an accomplice in the attacks -- a role he denies -- and is charged with six counts of conspiracy -- four that could carry the death penalty.
Jury selection in his trial starts Sept. 30 in Alexandria, just miles from the Pentagon, which was hit on Sept. 11.
An array of French human rights groups denounced the requests for meetings with the Moussaoui family and asked France's justice minister to end cooperation with the United States in the case.
"Judicial cooperation with the United States must cease ... as soon as the death sentence is an issue," said Michel Tubiana, president of the Human Rights League.
The government's intention to seek capital punishment was first disclosed in a letter from U.S. Attorney Paul McNulty and lead prosecutor David J. Novak to dozens of victims' families.
The letter, dated March 7, said if the Justice Department gave final approval, "the Moussaoui case will become a capital prosecution, meaning the United States will be asking the jury to find that defendant Moussaoui should be executed should he be found guilty."
Moussaoui's mother said she is not opposed to her son going before a court "if he did something," and added that she wants to testify at his trial.
"But my son shouldn't pay for what he has not done. He told me he did nothing. I believe my son," she said. "They have to show proof."
On the day of the terrorist attacks, Moussaoui was in a prison cell. He had been arrested in Minnesota in August on visa violations after flight school instructors became suspicious of his intentions.