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Last Updated: Thursday, 13 April 2006, 21:52 GMT 22:52 UK
Moussaoui toys with defence team
By Richard Allen Greene
BBC News, Alexandria

Zacarias Moussaoui in court
Moussaoui lashed out at his own lawyers from the witness stand

Lawyers began the struggle to save the life of Zacarias Moussaoui in a US federal court on Thursday - but they got little help from the confessed al-Qaeda plotter himself, who took the stand for much of the day.

Moussaoui played a game of cat-and-mouse with his court-appointed lawyer Gerald Zerkin in the morning, doing his best to fend off an apparent defence attempt to portray him as suffering from paranoia.

But his answers could not have been more direct when the prosecution cross-examined him in the afternoon.

"Suicide bombing would be a high calling?" chief prosecutor Robert Spencer asked him later. "You would do it again tomorrow?"

"Today," Moussaoui responded unhesitatingly.

"You know who Timothy McVeigh is?" Mr Spencer asked, referring to the man who killed 167 people by bombing a federal building in Oklahoma in 1995.

"The greatest American," Moussaoui answered.

Laughter in court

Moussaoui is the only person charged in the United States in connection with the 11 September 2001 attacks. He has confessed to charges including conspiracy to hijack and to use weapons of mass destruction.

South tower of WTC collapsing
Moussaoui is the only person charged in the US over the attacks
A jury is deciding whether he will face the death penalty or life in prison.

He proved a cagey and obstructive witness when the defence put him on the stand, prompting audible gasps as a court official said: "Call Mr Moussaoui."

Moussaoui seemed to know that the defence attempt to save his life will rely on showing he is mentally unstable and eager for "martyrdom" at the hands of the US government.

He drew chuckles from the court when Mr Zerkin's question about why he hated America and Americans elicited a sigh and a lengthy pause.

"It's going to be long," he finally said, prompting more scattered laughter.

But he launched into a diatribe that put a quick halt to the tittering, beginning with a citation from the Koran which he said meant Islam had to become a superpower in place of America, and drifting into an answer about "the Jewish state of Palestine" that ended with a threat to "exterminate" American Jews.

He said he felt no regret when he saw 11 September victims testifying in the court, enunciating every syllable of his reply: "None what-so-ever.

"We did it for this. We want to inflict pain on your country.

"The children of Palestine and the children of Chechnya will be in pain tomorrow. I want you to share the pain," he said.

'Psychological warfare'

Moussaoui spoke firmly and insistently in his thick French accent, but observed court etiquette on the witness stand.

I thought your idea to portray me [as] crazy would never work
Zacarias Moussaoui
The prosecutor Mr Spencer used that fact to try to show Moussaoui was sane and behaving rationally, and the defendant readily admitted he had done so in order to be allowed to testify.

He answered the prosecution questions directly and proudly - quite unlike his evasive replies to the man who was attempting to defend him.

Mr Zerkin asked him several times if he believed that the greatest jihad was to tell the truth and to be executed for it.

No, he said, simply to tell the truth.

The defence lawyer was forced to introduce documents written by Moussaoui himself to prove the defendant had made the fuller claim - and could presumably be suspected of actively seeking the death penalty.

Mr Zerkin read out the quote from an August 2002 filing: "The greatest jihad is to tell the truth to the tyrant and be executed for it.

"What does 'the tyrant' refer to?" Mr Zerkin asked.

"Guess what," Moussaoui replied.

"No, I'm not going to guess," Mr Zerkin said.

"You and the American people," Moussaoui replied.

Finally conceding that he had made the statement in full, Moussaoui said it was "psychological warfare" and "propaganda".

Lines of defence

Moussaoui did admit he had refused to co-operate with his defence team, insisting repeatedly he had been demanding a Muslim lawyer since the early stages of his prosecution in 2002.

He accused his team of "criminal non-assistance".

"I wanted to have somebody I trust, somebody who has my interest at stake, not somebody who wants fame," he said.

And he criticised the presumed defence strategy of trying to show is mentally unstable.

He said he had proposed two other possible lines of defence: that life in prison was worse punishment than death, and that he could be a useful bargaining chip if US troops were taken hostage in Iraq or Afghanistan.

"I thought your idea to portray me [as] crazy would never work," he said.


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