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Moussaoui tossed from jury selection four times

Associated Press
Published February 7, 2006

ALEXANDRIA, Va. - Proclaiming "I am al-Qaida," terrorist conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui disrupted the opening of his sentencing trial Monday and was tossed out of court as selection began for the jurors who will decide whether he lives or dies.

He disavowed his lawyers and pledged to testify on his own behalf in the trial that is to begin March 6.

An often volatile figure in his proceedings, Moussaoui was removed from the courtroom four separate times. "This trial is a circus," he declared. "I want to be heard." Of his lawyers, he said, "These people do not represent me."

After jury selection, expected to take a month, a penalty trial will determine whether the 37-year-old Frenchman of Moroccan descent, the only person in the United States charged in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, will be put to death or sentenced to life in prison.

He pleaded guilty in April to conspiring to fly planes into U.S. buildings but claims he had no role in the Sept. 11 plot.

U.S. District Judge Leonie M. Brinkema told the jury pool, "If any of you feel that outburst or the way he conducted himself might affect the way in which you would go about judging this case, you need to clearly put that statement on the jury questionnaire."

Moussaoui's first outburst, a minute into the proceedings, became the pattern for the day as each group of prospective jurors was brought in to answer an extensive questionnaire on their religious beliefs, cultural biases, group activities and much more.

Twice Moussaoui declared his allegiance to Osama bin Laden's terrorist network. "I will take the stand to tell the whole truth about my involvement," he said. "I am al-Qaida. They (his lawyers) are Americans. I'll have nothing to do with them."

Brinkema ordered marshals to take him from the courtroom; he went calmly each time.

Moussaoui was arrested on immigration charges Aug. 17, 2001, after arousing suspicion as he trained at a Minnesota flight school to fly 747 jets. He was still in custody when 19 hijackers flew two jets into the World Trade Center in New York, the Pentagon near Washington and a field in Pennsylvania, killing nearly 3,000 Americans in the nation's deadliest terrorist attack.

Prosecutors contend Moussaoui could have prevented the attacks by telling authorities about al-Qaida's designs. The defense argues that Moussaoui knew less about Sept. 11 than the government, citing investigations that turned up multiple missed opportunities that might have headed off the attacks.

[Last modified February 7, 2006, 01:13:13]

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