Massaoui 'competent' to plead guilty

21st April 2005, Comments 0 comments

WASHINGTON, April 20 (AFP) - The long, tortured legal saga of Frenchman Zacarias Moussaoui, the only person facing US charges related to the September11 attacks, is set to end with a guilty plea after a federal judge agreed Wednesday to accept his admission.

WASHINGTON, April 20 (AFP) - The long, tortured legal saga of Frenchman Zacarias Moussaoui, the only person facing US charges related to the September11 attacks, is set to end with a guilty plea after a federal judge agreed Wednesday to accept his admission.

After a closed meeting with Moussaoui and one of his lawyers, US District Judge Leonie Brinkema ruled that he was mentally competent to plead guilty, setting the date for Friday after more than three years of legal battles.

Moussaoui faces six conspiracy charges related to the attacks on New York and Washington, four of which could carry the death penalty, though it was not immediately known to which charges he intends to plead guilty.

"For the reasons stated on the record in a sealed hearing on April 20, 2005, the Court finds that the defendant is fully competent to plead guilty to the indictment," the judge ruled.

Tuesday, The Washington Post reported that Moussaoui, 36, had recently written to Brinkema and the US government to say he is willing to accept the possibility of a death sentence, resolving a key point of contention with prosecutors, who have insisted on capital punishment in his case.

After a guilty plea, Brinkema would likely set a date for sentencing at which a jury in Alexandria, Virginia would decide if Moussaoui should be executed.

Until now, Moussaoui has said that although he is a member of Al-Qaeda, he was meant to participate in plots other than the hijackings of September 11, 2001.

Jonathan Turley, a law professor at George Washington University, called the guilty plea "ridiculous."

Turley called Moussaoui a "trophy terrorist" for the government and said that despite Brinkema's ruling, the guilty plea raises serious questions about Moussaoui's mental competency.

"There are significant legal issues remaining in the Moussaoui case, some of which could be litigated in front of the Supreme Court," he said.

Nineteen men hijacked four jets and crashed two of them into the twin World Trade Centre towers and a third into the Pentagon. The fourth jet crashed in a field in Pennsylvania following an uprising by passengers. Around 3,000 people died in the attacks.

Prosecutors reportedly charge that Moussaoui, who was in jail on immigration violations at the time of the attacks, was to have been on the fourth plane. But Turley noted that a government expert has said Moussaoui was not the "20th hijacker."

"The case was built around those charges," Turley said. "He might be pleading guilty to crimes he may not have committed."

As part of their defence strategy, Moussaoui and his lawyers sought access to three top Al-Qaeda operatives in US custody - Ramzi bin al-Shaiba, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and Moustafa Ahmed al-Hawsawi - all accused Al-Qaeda organisers and financiers. Mohammed is considered the number-three in Al-Qaeda.

Moussaoui had argued that their testimony could help prove the Frenchman had nothing to do with September 11.

The move repeatedly delayed his trial as both sides wrangled over access to the detainees, which the US Justice Department claimed would threaten US security and classified information.

Last month the US Supreme Court ruled in favour of the government, ending the debate.

In 2002 Moussaoui tried to plead guilty but reneged after the judge gave him a week to think about his offer. Later that year he fired his lawyers and decided to represent himself.

© AFP

Subject: French News

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