ALEXANDRIA, Va. -- Zacarias Moussaoui, the only person charged as a Sept. 11 conspirator, denied in court Thursday that he had been in contact with the hijackers and said he had secret information that would set him free.
Moussaoui, who on Thursday won the right to represent himself at trial, kept inching his way to a dramatic conclusion of the hearing by repeatedly pleading for "ten minutes, five minutes, two minutes" to explain why "the government will be compelled to withdraw the case today."
Government prosecutors believe Moussaoui may have been training as the 20th hijacker, but he told U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema the government "knew I was not in contact with these people who had done the hijacking."
Moussaoui was arrested Aug. 16 in Minnesota.
Speaking in accented but clear English, the French citizen made reference to secret information he said could be helpful to his cause. He did not explain what information the U.S. government had -- and how it might prove his innocence. Government lawyers did not respond to those statements.
The government has said it will seek the death penalty if Moussaoui is convicted on charges that he conspired to commit terrorism, aircraft piracy and destruction of aircraft, use weapons of mass destruction, murder U.S. government employees and destroy property.
In allowing him to represent himself, Brinkema concluded that Moussaoui's request was "unwise but rational," agreeing with a court-appointed psychiatrist that he was not suffering from a mental illness.
Even though she accepted his plea to represent himself, the judge told Moussaoui's court appointed defense team to remain in the case for now to assist him.
Moussaoui has accused those lawyers of conspiring to have him executed.
"It's not fair to him," to keep lawyers in the case under these circumstances, defense attorney Frank Dunham Jr. said after the hearing. Dunham said he believed that Moussaoui was not behaving rationally, but he failed in an attempt to get the judge to delay a ruling on legal representation until additional mental tests could be conducted.
"If you're trying to figure out anything he said in court, you are wasting your time," he said.