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Context of 'April 22, 2005: Moussaoui Pleads Guilty to All Charges Against Him, But Denies Role in 9/11 Plot'

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Immediately after learning of Zacarias Moussaoui’s suspicious behavior, Minneapolis FBI agent Harry Samit, one of the agents who arrests Moussaoui (see August 16, 2001), suspects he is preparing to hijack an airliner. He writes to a colleague, “That’s pretty ominous and obviously suggests some sort of hijacking plan.” [St. Paul Pioneer Press, 4/4/2006] Interviews with Moussaoui after his arrest will reinforce the Minneapolis FBI’s suspicions that he is involved in a wider terrorist plot against airliners (see August 16-17, 2001). And after interviewing Moussaoui’s associate Hussein al-Attas as well (see August 16, 2001), Samit is unequivocally “convinced… a hundred percent that Moussaoui [is] a bad actor, [is] probably a professional mujaheddin and this [is] not a joyride, that he [is] completely bent on the use of this aircraft for destructive purposes.” [US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 114-5, 120-2 pdf file] In the main initial memo from Samit to other FBI units, Samit describes Moussaoui as “extremely evasive” and “extremely agitated.” Samit also writes that Moussaoui appeared to by lying when he denied he had weapons training. Samit says, “Minneapolis believes that Moussaoui is an Islamic extremist preparing for some future act in furtherance of radical fundamentalist goals.” Samit expresses his belief Moussaoui is planning something with a 747-400. He is aware Moussaoui’s plan probably involves co-conspirators and writes “Moussaoui, al-Attas, and others yet unknown are conspiring to commit violations of [Federal anti-terrorism statutes],” and “there is reason to believe that Moussaoui and al-Attas are part of a larger international radical fundamentalist group.” Samit even suspects Moussaoui of two of the offenses he will eventually be charged with and plead guilty to (see April 22, 2005). The e-mail accompanying the main memo concludes, “[p]lease let me know a soon as [the Department] gives the go-ahead. We’re all counting on you!” [US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 120-2 pdf file; Minneapolis Star Tribune, 6/4/2006]

Entity Tags: Zacarias Moussaoui, FBI Headquarters, Harry Samit, Hussein al-Attas

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 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

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

A courtroom sketch of Leonie Brinkema.A courtroom sketch of Leonie Brinkema. [Source: Art Lein / Agence France-Presse]Leonie Brinkema, the federal judge overseeing the prosecution of Zacarias Moussaoui, denies a request to make public an unclassified version of a report on the FBI’s failure to stop the 9/11 attacks. The report, written by the Justice Department’s Inspector General Glenn Fine, was completed in July 2004 (see July 2004) has been held up from publication because of the Moussaoui trial. One portion of the report deals with the FBI’s handling of Moussaoui’s arrest in August 2001 (see August 16, 2001). However, he pleaded guilty earlier in April (see April 22, 2005). Judge Brinkema doesn’t give an explanation for continuing to keep the report classified or hint when it might finally be unclassified. Most of the report has no bearing on Moussaoui. [Washington Post, 4/30/2005] The report will be released two months later with the section on Moussaoui completely removed (see June 9, 2005).

Entity Tags: Leonie Brinkema, Zacarias Moussaoui, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Glenn Fine

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

The Justice Department files in US District Court in Alexandria a list of 89 questions for potential jurors in the forthcoming death penalty trial of al-Qaeda conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui. Months earlier Moussaoui pleaded guilty to all terrorism charges against him, but promised to fight the death penalty (See April 22, 2005). The Justice Department’s questions include requests for very specific biographical information, and queries about whether the individual socializes with people of Arab descent. They also cover such things as their religious beliefs and practices, and their views about Islam, the US government, and the death penalty. According to legal experts, the level of detail is extraordinary and indicates the high stakes of the prosecution. [Associated Press, 11/28/2005; Washington Post, 11/29/2005] Two days later, lawyers representing Moussaoui submit an even more extensive list to the trial judge, with 306 questions. These include asking potential jurors about their personal response to the 9/11 attacks, and their opinions of other high-profile FBI investigations such as Waco and Ruby Ridge. A sixth of the questions probe their attitudes to the death penalty. There are also questions about their work history over the previous 15 years, and whether they have ever worked for the government or a government contractor. [Associated Press, 11/30/2005; CNN, 12/1/2005] The jury selection process will involve 500 potential jurors being summoned to the Alexandria courthouse on February 6, 2006 to fill in questionnaires, then returning starting a week later to be questioned by the judge. The process is expected to take a month, which is far longer than most cases at the Alexandria courthouse. [Associated Press, 12/29/2005; Washington Post, 12/29/2005] Moussaoui’s trial will commence on March 6, 2006, and two months later he will be sentenced to life imprisonment for his role in the 9/11 attacks. [Guardian, 3/7/2006; BBC, 5/4/2006]

Entity Tags: US Department of Justice, Zacarias Moussaoui, US District Court Eastern District of Virginia

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 “erroneously” misled the court and the lawyers involved in the ongoing prosecution of 9/11 suspect Zacarias Moussaoui (see April 22, 2005), it admits in a letter released today. In court declarations on May 9, 2003 and on November 14, 2005, the CIA stated it had no recordings of interrogations of “enemy combatants.” Now it admits it had two video tapes and one audio tape. Moussaoui’s lawyers want the tapes as part of his defense. The federal prosecutors say they just recently learned of the tapes, but they have been assured by the CIA that the tapes have no bearing on Moussaoui’s case, and no one on the tapes mentions either Moussaoui or the 9/11 plot. The prosecutors assert that, while the CIA errors are “unfortunate,” no harm was done to Moussaoui, who pled guilty and is serving a life sentence for his complicity in the attacks (see May 3, 2006). The letter, which has been heavily censored for public consumption, reads in part, “We bring the errors to the court’s attention… as part of our obligation of candor to the court.… The government will promptly apprise the court of any further developments.” [Reuters, 11/13/2007]

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency, Zacarias Moussaoui

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

Jose Padilla (see May 14, 2007), convicted in August 2007 of conspiring to assist terrorist organizations such as al-Qaeda, is sentenced for his crimes. Padilla was not charged with plotting to detonate a radioactive “dirty bomb,” as Bush administration officials have long alleged (see June 10, 2002). He is sentenced to over 17 years in prison, but is not sentenced to life in prison, as Judge Marcia Cooke could have given him. Cooke gives Padilla some credit for his detention in a US naval brig, and agrees that he was subjected to what she calls “harsh conditions” and “extreme environmental stresses” while there. “I do find that the conditions were so harsh for Mr. Padilla… they warrant consideration in the sentencing in this case,” she rules. Padilla does not get credit for time served. Two co-defendants, Adham Amin Hassoun (see 1993) and Kifah Wael Jayyousi (see (October 1993-November 2001)), are also convicted; Hassoun receives over 15 years in prison and Jayyousi is sentenced to over 12 years. Cooke says that the prosecution failed to prove that either defendant was responsible for any specific acts of terrorism. “There is no evidence that these defendants personally maimed, kidnapped, or killed anyone in the United States or elsewhere,” she rules. The reactions from the defendants’ lawyers and family members are mixed. “I feel good about everything. This is amazing,” says Padilla’s mother, Estela Lebron. Hassoun’s lawyer, Jeanne Baker, calls the verdict “a defeat for the government.” And Jayyousi’s lawyer, William Swor, says: “The government has not made America any safer. It has just made America less free.” [Associated Press, 1/22/2008] Padilla will serve his prison sentence at a so-called “supermax” prison facility in Colorado. Domestic terrorists such as Terry Nichols, convicted of conspiring to bomb a federal building in Oklahoma City (see Late 1992-Early 1993 and Late 1994), “Unabomber” Ted Kaczynski (see April 3, 1996), and al-Qaeda operative Zacarias Moussaoui (see April 22, 2005) are also held at this facility. [Jurist, 4/19/2008]

Entity Tags: Marcia Cooke, William Swor, Kifah Wael Jayyousi, Jeanne Baker, Adham Amin Hassoun, Al-Qaeda, Jose Padilla, Estela Lebron, Bush administration (43)

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

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