FBI agents testify Moussaoui’s lies hampered investigation
ALEXANDRIA, Va. – The FBI agent who arrested Zacarias Moussaoui in August 2001 testified Thursday he suspected the student pilot from France was a terrorist, but that Moussaoui’s lies sent agents on “wild goose chases” away from his links to al-Qaida and Osama bin Laden.Harry Samit testified the lies sent agents futilely searching London – the home listed on Moussaoui’s passport – for associates he claimed had given him money, but that Moussaoui never mentioned the alias used by Ramzi Binalshibh, an al-Qaida operative, to wire him cash from Germany.The 37-year-old Frenchman of Moroccan descent did not admit getting money from that operative for almost four years – not until he pleaded guilty last April to conspiring with al-Qaida to fly planes into U.S. buildings.The jury in this U.S. District Court trial will decide whether Moussaoui, the only person charged in this country in the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, will be put to death or imprisoned for life.Moussaoui’s statements to agents are key because prosecutors are seeking to prove that his lies prevented agents from foiling the attacks.Over objections by court-appointed defense lawyer Edward MacMahon, prosecutor David Novak asked Samit one by one about Moussaoui’s admissions last April and whether he gave any hint of them in 2001. Each time the answer was no.What if Moussaoui had admitted in 2001 that he was an al-Qaida member who had pledged obedience to bin Laden?”I would have asked additional questions about his role al-Qaida and his relation to Osama bin Laden. It would have opened up a whole world of questions,” replied Samit, a counterterrorism specialist.”The answers dictate the logical course of the interview,” said Samit, who arrested Moussaoui in Minnesota on Aug. 16, 2001, for immigration violations. “You can’t ask logical follow-up questions if he provides misleading answers. It takes you down all sorts of alleys – wild goose chases, essentially.”Samit said that during his initial 90-minute interview of Moussaoui, Moussaoui claimed he was taking commercial flight training lessons in Minnesota “for enjoyment and his own personal ego.” Moussaoui claimed the more than $32,000 in cash he brought into the United States was savings from work in an export-import business and from friends and associates.Agents pressed Moussaoui for the names of the friends and associates who supplied the cash and for a day he supplied only a single name, “Taleal.” When Moussaoui a day later said Taleal was Akhmed Atef, Samit immediately asked bureau agents in London to search for that man because the only foreign address they had for Moussaoui was in London.Samit described how his suspicions grew during two days of interviews. Moussaoui said he had traveled to Malaysia and Indonesia but his passport did not show entry or exit stamps from those countries. “He informed me that they had been in a previous passport destroyed in the wash,” Samit said.”I was aware that frequently terrorists to mask suspicious travel … would regularly destroy their passports or report them lost” and get replacements without telltale entry and exit stamps, Samit said.Samit immediately became suspicious of Moussaoui when executives of a flight school in suburban Minneapolis reported a foreign student training to fly a Boeing 747-400 despite having almost no pilot experience.Also Thursday, one of the flight school’s instructors testified he urged his bosses to call the FBI after his new student responded angrily to innocent questions about his religion and paid for his training in $100 bills.The instructor at the Pan Am Flight Academy in Eagan, Minn., Clarence Prevost, told the jury he first assumed Moussaoui was a rich guy “just fulfilling a dream.”But on the first day of class, when Moussaoui, asked whether he was a Muslim, responded with a terse “I am nothing,” Prevost became suspicious.”I said, ‘Should we be doing this?”‘ Prevost told the court. “‘We don’t know anything about this guy and we’re teaching him to throw the switches on a (Boeing) 747.”‘He said he raised his concern the next morning with school official Alan McHale and was told: “He paid the money. We don’t care.”Prevost said he responded, “We’ll care when there’s a hijacking … and the lawsuits come in after they find out we taught him how to do this.”Prevost pressed the case after learning Moussaoui paid $6,800 in $100 bills, and the school did call the FBI.—Associated Press writer Matthew Barakat contributed to this report.Vail, Colorado
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