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Last Updated: Thursday, 6 April 2006, 09:01 GMT 10:01 UK
Emotional hearings ahead in 9/11 case
By Richard Allen Greene
BBC News, Washington

Zacarias Moussaoui testifies at his sentencing trial
Moussaoui has said he planned to attack the White House
Lawyers defending confessed al-Qaeda plotter Zacarias Moussaoui will have their work cut out for them when phase two of his trial begins on Thursday.

They will be trying to persuade the jury not to have him executed - only three days after it ruled he was eligible for the death penalty.

The defence plans to call a psychiatric expert to say Moussaoui is schizophrenic, and a sociologist to say he suffered racism as an impoverished child in France.

Those mitigating circumstances, they hope, will build jury sympathy for the only person tried in the United States for the 11 September attacks.

But the prosecution has its own plans to counter such appeals to emotion.

Government lawyers are expected to read out the names of 2,972 people who died in the deadliest attack on US soil, and to show photographs of each.

They will also call as witnesses about 45 relatives of people who died on 9/11.

Conflicting testimony

Moussaoui's exact role in 9/11 remains unclear, despite years of investigation - and his own testimony in court.

I know the materialistic Western mind cannot grasp the idea, and it is difficult for them to believe that high officials in al-Qaeda do not know about operations carried out by its operatives, but this is how it works
Khalid Sheikh Mohammed

After his arrest three weeks before the attacks, he said he was to be part of a later wave of strikes, not the 9/11 plot itself.

Then, when he took the stand at his trial in March 2006, he stunned the court by saying he had been training to fly a plane into the White House on the same day the World Trade Center and Pentagon were attacked.

It is not clear how credible that claim is, not least because it directly contradicts testimony from what might seem to be an unimpeachable source - Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, generally believed to be the mastermind behind the attacks.

Sheikh Mohammed has been in US custody at an undisclosed location for three years, but Moussaoui's defence team introduced nearly 60 pages of evidence gleaned from his interrogation.

The opening statement accompanying the submission notes that Sheikh Mohammed "is not available to testify either in person or by video for national security reasons", but adds that his comments "were made under circumstances designed to elicit truthful statements from the witness".

Sheikh Mohammed makes absolutely clear in the testimony that Moussaoui was to be part of a second, ill-defined attack on the US after 9/11.

The senior al-Qaeda planner did not expect the 9/11 attacks to be as spectacularly effective as they were - or the overwhelming US response - and so hoped to carry off a similar strike later with hijackers who carried non-Arab passports.

Moussaoui, a French citizen, could have played a role in the later attacks, Sheikh Mohammed told his interrogators.

Inside al-Qaeda

Khalid Sheikh Mohammed's pictures on FBI website
Sheikh Mohammed has been in US custody since March 2003
His evidence was among the most detailed look into how al-Qaeda planned the event - and the first time he has been heard from unambiguously since he disappeared into US custody in March 2003.

(The 9/11 Commission report cites evidence he gave interrogators, but does not quote him directly. Evidence thought to be from him was used in the trial of suspected al-Qaeda plotter Mounir al-Motassadek, but Sheikh Mohammed was not named as the source of the information.)

In a written statement, he said Westerners would find it hard to understand how compartmentalised al-Qaeda was.

"I know the materialistic Western mind cannot grasp the idea, and it is difficult for them to believe that high officials in al-Qaeda do not know about operations carried out by its operatives, but this is how it works," he said.

He added that al-Qaeda ran on absolute obedience to Osama Bin Laden - though he himself appeared to have a slightly uneasy relationship with the leader, the BBC's security correspondent Gordon Corera says.

He held off pledging loyalty to Bin Laden as long as he could, he told interrogators, and even had to tell the al-Qaeda chief to keep quiet about the upcoming attacks after Bin Laden hinted at them in August 2001.

Counting the cost

But neither Osama Bin Laden nor Khalid Sheikh Mohammed will be before the jury in Alexandria, Virginia - Zacarias Moussaoui will.

Prosecutors will introduce a mountain of information to persuade the jury that he deserves a lethal injection.

In addition to the names of the dead, they will cite examples of the damage the 9/11 attacks did to New York and its economy:

  • The deaths of 343 firefighters, 23 police officers, an FBI agent and a secret service officer

  • The destruction of 12m sq ft (1m sq metres) of office space and more than 467 government vehicles

  • The disruption of rail and subway trains

  • Several billion dollars worth of property damage

The defence, for its part, seems to be planning an appeal to the jury's hoped-for bloody-mindedness.

Moussaoui wants to be executed as a warrior who fought America, his lawyers will say.

He should be denied that privilege, Edward MacMahon said as the first phase of the trial ended: "Don't make him a hero, ladies and gentlemen."

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