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Wednesday, 12 December, 2001, 13:07 GMT
France to assist terror suspect
Zacarias Moussaoui
Four charges against Mr Moussaouri carry the death penalty
By the BBC's James Coomarasamy in Paris

The French justice minister has said her country will seek to protect the rights of Zacarias Moussaoui, the Frenchman indicted in the United States for conspiracy in the 11 September attacks.

This person is under French consular protection, to guarantee defence rights... because we do not accept the death penalty

Marylise Lebranchu
The 33-year-old Frenchman of Moroccan descent, who was arrested by US authorities in August, could face capital punishment if he is found guilty of the six charges against him.

Justice Minister Marylise Lebranchu said that, while France respected the US investigation, it did not accept the death penalty.

She said consular protection - particularly concerning the right to defence - would be offered to Mr Moussaoui, the first person to be charged in connection with the September attacks.

Leniency unlikely

In general, Mr Moussaoui's indictment has brought a fairly muted response from the French press.

After it was revealed in September that he could be the "20th hijacker", there were many profiles of him, and his indictment has not caused much of a stir in itself.

It is difficult to see what France can do to prevent American justice running its course

His mother, however, has told the newspaper Le Parisien that she fears her son will not get a fair trial.

Aicha Moussaoui, interviewed in the flat in Narbonne where the suspected terrorist grew up, expresses her fears that her son will not receive a fair trial in the United States.

Mrs Moussaoui, who has not seen her son for several years, says that she has not been able to establish contact with the lawyer who has been assigned to him.

She also refers to a letter which Mr Moussaoui sent her from prison, in which he alleges that the US would fabricate evidence against him.

US Attorney General John Ashcroft
US Attorney General John Ashcroft has made his feelings very clear
France - together with other European countries - refuses to extradite suspects to countries where they might face the death penalty.

However, the case of Mr Moussaoui is different.

He was arrested in August in Minnesota, where he had applied for flying lessons, and it is difficult to see what France can do to prevent American justice running its course.

The question of France's opposition to capital punishment comes at a time when the authorities in Paris have angered American commentators by honouring a convicted US murderer who faces the death penalty.

The former Black Panther, Mamia Abu-Jamal, was made an honorary citizen of the French capital last week.

See also:

12 Dec 01 | Americas
Ashcroft moves to reassure Europe
11 Dec 01 | Americas
America's first accused
11 Dec 01 | Americas
Terror investigation switches focus
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