Lies of '20th hijacker' caused September 11, court hears

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The Independent US

Government prosecutors have claimed that Zacarias Moussaoui, the only person charged over the 9/11 attacks, was a "loyal al-Qa'ida soldier" who was responsible for the deaths of almost 3,000 people and should be executed.

Opening its case during the sentencing phase of a trial process that has so far taken more than four years, prosecutors said that Moussaoui - who has been in custody since the summer of 2001 - failed to warn authorities of the plot to hijack four passenger aircraft and fly them into landmark buildings.

"He lied so the plot could proceed unimpeded," Rob Spencer, for the prosecution, told the court in Alexandria, Virginia, yesterday. "With that lie, he caused the deaths of nearly 3,000 people. He rejoiced in the death and destruction. Had Mr Moussaoui told the truth, it would all have been different."

In response, Moussaoui's court-appointed lawyer said that while the defendant may have wished to be a terrorist, he played no part in the attacks. "That is Zacarias Moussaoui in a nutshell," said Edward MacMahon. "Sound and fury signifying nothing."

Moussaoui, a 37-year-old French citizen of Moroccan descent, pleaded guilty in April to six counts, three of which carry the death penalty. He has admitted his loyalty to al-Qa'ida and his intent to commit acts of terrorism by conspiring with the terror network to hijack planes. However, he denies any prior knowledge of the 9/11 plot.

This part of his trial is being held to decide a punishment for the man known as the "20th hijacker" and the jury has only the option of sentencing him to life in prison or else death. The hearing is being watched by relatives of those who were killed on 9/11 on closed-circuit television at locations around the country.

Mr MacMahon appealed to jurors to judge his client fairly and not "as a substitute for Osama bin Laden". Executing him would only make him a martyr, said Mr MacMahon, pointing out that many al-Qa'ida members only "live so that they can die". He added: "Moussaoui certainly wasn't sent over here to tell a lie ... We must give this man a fair trial no matter who he is, what he thinks of us and who he represents.

"Please don't make him a hero. He just doesn't deserve it." The jury was told that the hearing could take two weeks.