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Context of 'March 27, 2006: Moussaoui Testifies Against Self, Claims He Was to Fly Fifth Plane on 9/11'

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Richard Reid’s shoe bomb.
Richard Reid’s shoe bomb. [Source: NEFA Foundation]British citizen Richard Reid is arrested for trying to blow up a Miami-bound jet using explosives hidden in his shoe. [Associated Press, 8/19/2002] Reid fails in his attempt to destroy the American Airlines jet because he is unable to detonate the explosives—he cannot get the fuse to light using matches, despite using up six of them before he is overpowered by the stewards and passengers. Authors Sean O’Neill and Daniel McGrory will comment, “Had Reid used a cheap disposable plastic cigarette lighter to ignite the fuse of his bomb, rather than a match that did not burn for long enough, forensic experts are sure there was enough plastic explosive in his boot to puncture the fuselage of Flight 63 and bring down the aircraft.” [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 215-217, 236] The attack is supposed to be one of two simultaneous attacks, but Reid’s partner, Saajit Badat, backs out shortly before the bombing (see (December 14, 2001)). Reid will later plead guilty to all charges, and declare himself a follower of Osama bin Laden. [CBS News, 10/4/2002] He may have ties to Pakistan. [Washington Post, 3/31/2002] It is later believed that Reid and others in the shoe bomb plot reported directly to 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM). [CNN, 1/30/2003] It has been suggested that KSM has ties to the ISI, and that Reid is a follower of Ali Gilani, a religious leader believed to be working with the ISI (see January 6, 2002).

Entity Tags: Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Daniel McGrory, Sean O’Neill, Richard C. Reid

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

The government reveals in a closed-door court hearing that recent interrogations of top al-Qaeda prisoners indicate that Zacarias Moussaoui may have been part of a plot to hijack a fifth plane on the day of 9/11, perhaps with the White House as its target. This is in contrast to the government’s original accusation that Moussaoui was to be the “20th hijacker” on Flight 93. Because Moussaoui does not have a security clearance, he cannot see the classified evidence against him, but he later learns of this “fifth-jet theory” while reading a transcript of the hearing that was not thoroughly redacted. [CNN, 8/8/2003; Time, 10/19/2003] At Moussaoui’s 2006 trial (see March 6-May 4, 2006), the prosecution will support the fifth jet theory—which Moussaoui both admits (see March 27, 2006) and denies (see April 22, 2005)—arguing that he engaged in parallel conduct with the hijackers (see February 23-August 16, 2001) and was supported by the same people (see July 29, 2001-August 3, 2001 and June 13-September 25, 2000). The theory is also supported by the hearsay of what one of the hijackers reportedly told a relative. In February 2001, Khalid Almihdhar told a cousin that Osama bin Laden was planning to launch five attacks against the US (see Late October 2000-July 4, 2001). But during interrogations, some captured al-Qaeda leaders will reportedly insist that Moussaoui was only a back-up (see November 20, 2002), while others will claim that he was part of a follow-up operation (see Before 2008).

Entity Tags: Zacarias Moussaoui

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

In January 2003, Judge Leonie Brinkema ruled that Zacarias Moussaoui must be allowed to conduct a videotaped deposition of bin al-Shibh. However, the government still refuses to allow Moussaoui access to bin al-Shibh, stating that even its own lawyers do not have access to question al-Qaeda captives. But on May 12, the government revealed that lawyers have been submitting questions to al-Qaeda detainees about Moussaoui’s role in the 9/11 plot. Two days later, Judge Brinkema demands to know, “If circumstances have changed such that submission of written questions is now possible, when did the circumstances change and why was neither this court nor the district court so informed at the time?” She also suggests that since the prosecution can submit questions to al-Qaeda operatives in custody, Moussaoui should also be allowed to do the same. [New York Times, 5/15/2004]

Entity Tags: Ramzi bin al-Shibh, Leonie Brinkema, Zacarias Moussaoui

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

The 9/11 Commission releases a new report on how the 9/11 plot developed. Most of their information appears to come from interrogations of prisoners Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM), the 9/11 mastermind, and Ramzi bin al-Shibh, a key member of the al-Qaeda Hamburg cell. In this account, the idea for the attacks appears to have originated with KSM. In mid-1996, he met bin Laden and al-Qaeda leader Mohammed Atef in Afghanistan. He presented several ideas for attacking the US, including a version of the 9/11 plot using ten planes (presumably an update of Operation Bojinka’s second phase plot (see February-Early May 1995)). Bin Laden does not commit himself. In 1999, bin Laden approves a scaled-back version of the idea, and provides four operatives to carry it out: Nawaf Alhazmi, Khalid Almihdhar, Khallad bin Attash, and Abu Bara al Taizi. Attash and al Taizi drop out when they fail to get US visas. Alhazmi and Almihdhar prove to be incompetent pilots, but the recruitment of Mohamed Atta and the others in the Hamburg al-Qaeda cell solves that problem. Bin Laden wants the attacks to take place between May and July 2001, but the attacks are ultimately delayed until September. [9/11 Commission, 6/16/2004] However, information such as these accounts resulting from prisoner interrogations is seriously doubted by some experts, because it appears they only began cooperating after being coerced or tortured. For instance, it is said that KSM was “waterboarded,” a technique in which his head is pushed under water until he nearly drowns. Information gained under such duress often is unreliable. Additionally, there is a serious risk that the prisoners might try to intentionally deceive. [New York Times, 6/17/2004] For instance, one CIA report of his interrogations is called, “Khalid Shaikh Mohammed’s Threat Reporting—Precious Truths, Surrounded by a Bodyguard of Lies.” [Los Angeles Times, 6/23/2004] The Commission itself expresses worry that KSM could be trying to exaggerate the role of bin Laden in the plot to boost bin Laden’s reputation in the Muslim world. [9/11 Commission, 6/16/2004] Most of what these prisoners have said is uncorroborated from other sources. [New York Times, 6/17/2004] In 2007, it will be alleged that as much as 90 percent of KSM’s interrogation could be inaccurate, and that he has recanted some of his confessions (see August 6, 2007).

Entity Tags: Osama bin Laden, 9/11 Commission, Ramzi bin al-Shibh, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Zacarias Moussaoui wants captured al-Qaeda leaders Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and Ramzi bin al-Shibh to testify in his trial. However, an appeals court in April 2004 had only allowed indirect access to those prisoners, and further appeals court decisions in September and October 2004 had reaffirmed that ruling. On this date, the US Supreme Court, without comment, refuses to hear a further appeal. This was expected because the Supreme Court typically doesn’t hear such appeals until after the case goes to trial. [Washington Post, 9/14/2004; Washington Post, 10/14/2004; Washington Post, 3/22/2005] Moussaoui’s guilty plea one month later (see April 22, 2005) may lead to a new round of appeals. Presiding judge Leonie Brinkema has indicated she believes witness access is “highly relevant to the sentencing phase,” which will begin next, and could constitute “mitigating evidence” that could make the difference between Moussaoui receiving the death penalty or not. [Washington Post, 4/23/2005]

Entity Tags: Zacarias Moussaoui, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, US Supreme Court, Ramzi bin al-Shibh, Leonie Brinkema

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Zacarias Moussaoui.
Zacarias Moussaoui. [Source: Sherburne County Sheriffs Office]In an unexpected move, Zacarias Moussaoui pleads guilty to all six terrorism conspiracy charges against him. Moussaoui had been arrested weeks before 9/11, and was formally charged in December 2001 for his role in the 9/11 plot. He says it is “absolutely correct” that he is guilty of the charges: conspiracy to commit acts of terrorism transcending national boundaries; to commit aircraft piracy; to destroy aircraft; to use weapons of mass destruction; to murder US government employees; and to destroy US government property. However, he says, “I was not part of 9/11,” but rather claims he was part of a “broader conspiracy” aimed at post-9/11 attacks. He says he was personally directed by bin Laden to pilot a 747 and “strike the White House” with it, but as part of a “different conspiracy than 9/11.” His plea means there will be no trial to determine guilt, but there will still be a trial to determine his sentencing, which could be as severe as the death penalty. He promises to fight in the sentencing phase, stating he doesn’t deserve death because he was not directly connected to the 9/11 plot. [CNN, 4/23/2005; Washington Post, 4/23/2005] A CNN legal analyst notes that Moussaoui’s guilty plea “makes little sense.” Moussaoui may have actually had a chance to be proven not guilty because of the many thorny legal issues his case raises (two suspected members of the al-Qaeda Hamburg cell have been found not guilty in German courts because they have not been allowed access to testimony from al-Qaeda prisoners who might exonerate them, and Moussaoui so far has been denied access to those same prisoners (see March 22, 2005)). It is pointed out that Moussaoui gave a guilty plea without “any promise of leniency in exchange for his plea,” and that he is unlikely to gain any sympathetic advantage from it in the death penalty trial. CNN’s analyst notes that the statements in his plea “suggest that Moussaoui [mistakenly] thought he had tricked the prosecution.” Doubts still remain whether Moussaoui is fully mentally sound and capable of legally defending himself. [CNN, 4/28/2005] A counterterrorism expert for RAND Corporation says of Moussaoui’s rather confusing statements, “If we thought by the end of the day we would find the holy grail as to exactly what the genesis of 9/11 was and what Moussaoui’s role in it was, we have been sorely disappointed. This contradiction in his behavior raises more questions than it answers.” The Washington Post notes that, “It remains uncertain” whether the death penalty trial “will divulge much new information about the plot.” [Washington Post, 4/23/2005]

Entity Tags: Zacarias Moussaoui, Osama bin Laden

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Zacarias Moussaoui.Zacarias Moussaoui. [Source: WNBC / Jonathan Deinst]Zacarias Moussaoui becomes the first and only person charged in direct connection with the 9/11 attacks to stand trial in the US. [Associated Press, 3/17/2006] He was preparing to hijack an aircraft and fly it into a target when he was arrested 26 days before 9/11 (see August 16, 2001 and April 22, 2005). Although there has been disagreement whether Moussaoui was to take part in the actual attack of 9/11 or a follow-up plot (see January 30, 2003), the prosecution alleges that Moussaoui had information related to the attacks (see August 16, 2001) and facilitated them by lying and not disclosing everything he knew to the FBI. He is charged with six counts, including conspiracy to commit acts of terrorism and conspiracy to commit aircraft piracy. [US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 12/11/2001 pdf file] The trial receives much media coverage and the highlights include the playing of United 93’s cockpit recorder (see April 12, 2006), a row over a government lawyer coaching witnesses (see March 13, 2006), and testimony by FBI agent Harry Samit (see March 9 and 20, 2006), former FBI assistant director Michael Rolince (see March 21, 2006), and Moussaoui himself (see March 27, 2006). Moussaoui is forced to wear a stun belt, controlled by one of the marshalls, under his jumpsuit. The belt is to be used if Moussaoui lunges at a trial participant. [New York Times, 4/17/2006] He has already pleaded guilty (see April 22, 2005) and the trial is divided into two phases; in the first phase the jury decides that Moussaoui is eligible for the death penalty, but in the second phase it fails to achieve unanimity on whether Moussaoui should be executed (see May 3, 2006). [Associated Press, 4/3/2006; New York Times, 4/17/2006]

Entity Tags: Zacarias Moussaoui

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Zacarias Moussaoui claimed that Richard Reid (above) was to have helped him hijack a fifth plane on 9/11.Zacarias Moussaoui claimed that Richard Reid (above) was to have helped him hijack a fifth plane on 9/11. [Source: Mirrorpix(.com)]Against the will of his defense attorneys, Zacarias Moussaoui takes the stand at his trial (see March 6-May 4, 2006) and claims that he was supposed to fly a fifth plane on 9/11. He says the plane would have targeted the White House and one of the muscle hijackers would have been shoe-bomber Richard Reid (see December 22, 2001). However, he claims not to have known the details of the other hijackings, only that the WTC would be hit. He does not mention any other collaborators aside from Reid, who has already been sentenced to a long prison term. When the prosecution asks him whether he lied to FBI investigators so the plan could go forward he replies, “That’s correct.” An Associated Press expert calls this, “a stunning revelation that would help prosecutors rather than him.” [Associated Press, 3/27/2006] In what the New York Times calls a “bizarre moment,” the defense team, aware of the damage this admission could do, subject Moussaoui to tough questioning and the chief prosecutor objects that one of the defense attorneys is badgering his own client. [New York Times, 4/17/2006]
Uncertainty over Fifth Jet - There is some dispute over whether Moussaoui was indeed to have flown a fifth plane (see January 30, 2003 and Before 2008). Following the testimony, the defense reads statements made by al-Qaeda leaders who are in custody, but are not permitted to testify at the trial (see May 14, 2003 and March 22, 2005). The statements say that Moussaoui was not part of 9/11, but a follow-up operation. [Associated Press, 3/28/2006; US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, 7/31/2006 pdf file] However, these statements were obtained using torture (see June 16, 2004). The government later concedes that there is no evidence linking Richard Reid to 9/11. [Associated Press, 4/20/2006]
"Complete Fabrication" - Moussaoui had denied being part of 9/11 before the trial (see April 22, 2005). By the end of the trial he will do so again, calling the confession he makes on this day “a complete fabrication.” [Associated Press, 5/8/2006]

Entity Tags: Zacarias Moussaoui, Richard C. Reid

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

The CIA rehires a former officer who previously threatened al-Qaeda leader Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri with a gun and drill during interrogations (see Between December 28, 2002 and January 1, 2003 and Late December 2002 or Early January 2003). The officer, a former FBI translator known as “Albert,” is to train other CIA officers at a facility in northern Virginia to handle different scenarios they might face in the field. He continues with the training until 2008 at the latest. However, according to an anonymous US official, he will still be working as an intelligence contractor in 2010. Albert’s rehiring will be revealed by the Associated Press in September 2010. According to the Associated Press, human rights critics say Albert’s return as a contractor raises questions about how the intelligence community deals with those who used unauthorized interrogation methods. “The notion that an individual involved in one of the more notorious episodes of the CIA’s interrogation program is still employed directly or indirectly by the US government is scandalous,” Ben Wizner, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union, will comment. [Associated Press, 9/7/2010]

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency, American Civil Liberties Union, “Albert”, Ben Wizner

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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