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9/11 terror suspect drops guilty pleas
( 2002-07-26 09:46 ) (7 )

Zacarias Moussaoui declared Wednesday he was guilty of four of six charges accusing him of conspiring with the Sept. 11 hijackers, then abruptly withdrew his attempted guilty plea after arguing with the judge.

"You want to link me to certain facts that will guarantee my death," Moussaoui told US District Judge Leonie Brinkema as he withdrew a plea he tried to make an hour earlier.

Moussaoui had begun his arraignment Wednesday by saying he wanted to plead guilty to the first four of six charges against him in the indictment the government brought him against him last December. All four of the charges carry the death penalty.

But the hearing took a turn when Brinkema declared she did not believe Moussaoui intended to admit his full guilt as laid out in the indictment.

"At this point I do not believe you are prepared to make a guilty plea because you are not prepared to admit the essence of the conspiracy," Brinkema said after Moussaoui tried to plead guilty to the first charge in his indictment.

Moussaoui, a Frenchman and the lone person charged with conspiring with the September hijackers, balked when the judge asked him directly if he had joined with members of al Qaeda in a plan to seize aircraft.

"I want a recess," he asked. The judge allowed a brief break, and then Moussaoui returned and said he wanted to withdraw the attempted guilty plea.

The judge then ended the hearing and told the government that if the case continues to trial, she will not allow prosecutors to mention Moussaoui had tried to plead guilty once.

"There was no guilty plea," the judge said before adjourning Moussaoui's stormy arraignment appearance.

Guilty Plea Attempt

The judge's decision ended a topsy-turvy arraignment that began with Moussaoui saying he intended to plead guilty.

"Today, I truthfully will enter on some of the charges, not all, a plea of guilty," Moussaoui declared.

"It should not be misunderstood that I endorse the entire indictment. There is enough factual basis for me to plead guilty in a truthful manner," the French citizen said.

Moussaoui told the court he intended to plead guilty to the first four charges in the indictment, accusing him of conspiracy to commit acts of terrorism, aircraft piracy, aircraft destruction and using weapons of mass destruction. All four charges carry the maximum penalty of death.

But the only man charged in the September attacks said he was not pleading to the last two charges. Those two charges accuse him of attempting to murder government employees and attempting to destroy property.

When the judge began to ask him about his role in the Sept. 11 conspiracy, Moussaoui gave his own explanation as his mother from France watched on in the audience.

"They allege I provided a guest house, I accept," he said.

"If they allege provide training, it is possible for me to accept," he said. "I plead guilty to what is in the indictment, but it still doesn't put me on the plane."

"I want to plead only for what I did, not for what they say I did," Moussaoui declared at one point in the proceedings.

The judge never accepted any of the guilty pleas.

Delay Request Rejected

During the middle of the hearing, the court was informed that a federal appeals court had rejected a request from a private lawyer who tried to represent Moussaoui. The lawyer wanted to stop the hearing.

Before Moussaoui made his statements, Brinkema also rejected a request by Moussaoui's court-appointed attorneys to delay Wednesday's arraignment and to order a full-scale mental evaluation. The lawyers, whom Moussaoui fired, have been arguing that they believe he is mentally ill and unable to represent himself.

They cited as evidence more than a hundred handwritten court briefs that Moussaoui has made - some making wild allegations.

"His pleadings are somewhat confrontational and somewhat unusual ... but they do not give the court any basis to assume that the defendant is not competent," the judge ruled.

Brinkema noted that the mother had written the court urging that her son's guilty pleas not be permitted.

Brinkema had sent a letter to Moussaoui noting that she had asked the government to outline the facts of the case against him. She asked him if he had seen the letter and agreed with the government's facts.

Moussaoui said the government had not allowed him to tell what he knows to a grand jury but said he wanted to use Thursday's court session to divulge what he knew about Sept. 11.

Moussaoui said the crux of the case against him is "whether I came to the US to commit acts of terrorism. ... That's what I want to talk to US people, Americans, who are my enemies."

US Attorney Paul McNulty had argued that Moussaoui was competent to make his own plea and that his defense lawyers request was "an attempt to add an artificial barrier to the defendant's clear intent to plead guilty."

Already heavy security at the US Courthouse not far from the Pentagon, site of one of the Sept. 11 attacks, was tightened further for Moussaoui's appearance.

The defendant was driven to the courthouse roughly two hours before his scheduled appearance.

The security perimeter of hydraulic barriers was widened for Moussaoui's return to the courtroom where he attempted a week earlier to plead guilty.

Moussaoui last week admitted he was a member of Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda network but in the past had denied aiding the hijackers. Brinkema told him he could not plead guilty by denying his personal role.

The Charges

Following are the six charges in the US government indictment against French citizen Zacarias Moussaoui, the only person charged in connection with the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks:

** Conspiracy to commit acts of terrorism transcending national boundaries.

** Conspiracy to commit aircraft piracy.

** Conspiracy to use weapons of mass destruction.

** Conspiracy to destroy aircraft.

** Conspiracy to murder United States employees.

** Conspiracy to destroy property.



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