Moussaoui prosecutors close with testimony that he could have spurred hunt for 9/11 hijackers
ALEXANDRIA, Va. – Prosecutors wrapped up their case for executing Zacarias Moussaoui with a former FBI agent’s testimony Thursday that the bureau could have identified 11 of the Sept. 11 hijackers within weeks if the al-Qaida conspirator had confessed when he was arrested a month before the suicide attacks.Before court-appointed defense attorneys could begin their case, Moussaoui announced loudly as he left for a recess that he would testify in his own behalf.”I will testify, Zerkin, whether you want it or not,” he said, referring to one of his lawyers, Gerald Zerkin. The 37-year-old Frenchman, who is the only person charged in this country in connection with the 2001 attacks, has refused to cooperate with his lawyers.Former FBI agent Aaron Zebley testified that Moussaoui’s admission, when he pleaded guilty last April, that he received more than $14,000 in wire transfers from a man using the name Ahad Sabet could have been a key lead. Agents could have obtained Western Union records of the transfers that could lead them to other business records identifying most of the 19 hijackers who flew jetliners into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and a Pennsylvania field.U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema, who has told the jury it cannot decide Moussaoui’s punishment “on speculation,” barred Zebley from explicitly asserting what the FBI would have accomplished had he confessed when arrested Aug. 16, 2001.But Zebley gave prosecutors their strongest testimony in a week when many of their witnesses ended up buttressing the defense argument that the FBI and Federal Aviation Administration badly bungled better intelligence about 9/11 than Moussaoui had in the summer of 2001.Zebley implied that Moussaoui’s lies when arrested while taking pilot lessons in Minnesota foreclosed several avenues of investigation that might have saved at least one of the nearly 3,000 lives lost on 9/11.”We could have set about finding the hijackers,” Zebley said.For the first hour of more than two hours on the stand Thursday, Zebley had jurors leaning forward to follow his explanation of how FBI agents moved from the data in records of one money transfer by Western Union, through incoming and outgoing calls to a phone number listed on the Western Union record, to the businesses that were called from all those phone numbers, to home addresses listed on business and bank transaction records, to leases and driver’s licenses and other IDs recorded by landlords. He said the identities of 11 of the hijackers were learned by these methods within weeks after the attacks and these records existed in August, 2001.On cross-examination, defense lawyer Edward MacMahon pointed out that neither Moussaoui’s statements after arrest nor anything found in a post-9/11 search of his possessions gave away that he got that money transfer by wire. The defense has argued that under the Fifth Amendment Moussaoui had no obligation to incriminate himself when arrested.MacMahon asked why the FBI didn’t launch a full criminal investigation of Moussaoui in August 2001 based on 70 appeals to Washington by arresting agent Harry Samit who warned that Moussaoui was a terrorist training to hijack an airliner.”The FBI has to have a confession … before anybody listens?” MacMahon asked.Zebley replied that Samit did not know all the details in Moussaoui’s 2005 confession.MacMahon got Zebley to acknowledge that nothing in the confession or in FBI evidence gathered since then shows any contact between Moussaoui and the 9/11 hijackers, who lived, trained and traveled together in small groups. Moussaoui pleaded guilty to conspiring with al-Qaida to fly planes into U.S. buildings. But he says he had nothing to do with 9/11 and was training to fly a 747 jetliner into the White House as part of a possible later attack.MacMahon brought out that the CIA knew in March 2000 that two of the 9/11 hijackers – Nawaf al-Hazmi and Khalid al-Mihdhar – had entered the United States in 2000 after attending a conference with Osama bin Laden associates in Malaysia. He showed that the CIA finally told the FBI on Aug. 23, 2001, that the pair were in the United States, and that the FBI sent a message marked “routine” on Aug. 28 asking its New York office to look for them. On Sept. 10, 2001, the FBI New York office asked the Los Angeles office to check for them in hotels there, according an FBI document MacMahon introduced.”What could have been done if the U.S. government had tracked al-Hazmi and al-Mihdhar in the summer of 2001?” MacMahon asked. “We’ll never know, right?”Zebley conceded that point.The first defense witness, former FBI agent Erik Rigler, summarized a Justice Department inspector general report that criticized the CIA for keeping the al-Hazmi and al-Mihdhar intelligence from the FBI for so long and the FBI for assigning pursuit of the pair to one inexperienced, young agent. It said the pair was on Thailand’s watchlist in January, 2000, but not on a U.S. watchlist until August, 2001.Earlier in the trial, Samit said he spent four weeks warning his bosses about the radical Islamic student pilot. He said “criminal negligence” and bureaucratic resistance by FBI headquarters agents blocked “a serious opportunity to stop the 9/11 attacks.”This sentencing trial will determine whether Moussaoui is executed or imprisoned for life.Meanwhile, Transportation Security Administration lawyer Carla J. Martin, who improperly coached witnesses in the case, was subpoenaed for a Monday hearing, but her legal advisers were trying to block the appearance, according to a lawyer familiar with the case. As she recessed the trial until Monday morning, Brinkema had said there might be an early auxilliary hearing Monday, but a court spokesman said later none was scheduled.—Associated Press Writers Matthew Barakat and John C. Henry contributed to this report.
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