Video: Moussaoui: 'I am al-Qaida'

updated 2/6/2006 3:09:20 PM ET 2006-02-06T20:09:20

Proclaiming “I am al-Qaida,” Zacarias Moussaoui was removed from a federal courtroom in Alexandria on Monday at the outset of jury selection in his terrorist conspiracy trial. The judge told prospective jurors that those who are chosen will decide whether he lives or dies.

The acknowledged al-Qaida conspirator, often a volatile figure in the courtroom, got into an argument with U.S. District Judge Leonie M. Brinkema in the first minute of the proceedings, demanding “I want to be heard,” and “this trial is a circus.” He said of his lawyers, “These people do not represent me.”

He left with his hands on his head, offering no resistance. Less than an hour later, he was brought back when a fresh pool of prospective jurors had been ushered into the courtroom. He stood up at the defense table and said again, of his attorneys, “I do not want them to represent me.”

Again, Brinkema had him removed.

Questionnaire probes ethnic feelings
The outbursts came as the first groups of prospective jurors in the life-or-death phase of Moussaoui’s trial gathered to answer questions about their religious beliefs, feelings about Muslims and Arabs, reaction to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, response to the deadly 1993 FBI faceoff with Branch Davidians near Waco, Texas, and even whether they belong to groups such as the Rotary Club or Kiwanis.

The questionnaire is being used to help the judge and the lawyers select 12 jurors and six alternates from a pool of 500 people from northern Virginia. That’s expected to take a month, setting the stage for the trial to begin March 6 on whether Moussaoui will be put to death or given life in prison.

Among the questions: “Do you have any negative feelings or opinions about Muslims or people of Arab or North African descent?” “Do you believe Islam endorses violence to a greater or lesser extent than other religions?”

Life or death
Brinkema told the prospective jurors they have no sentencing flexibility except to decide whether he should be executed or imprisoned for life without chance of parole. She said the case hinges on whether he lied when interrogated before Sept. 11, 2001 and people died as a result.

“A death penalty case is an awesome responsibility,” she said. She instructed the citizens to be forthcoming if Moussaoui’s courtroom behavior affected their ability to judge the case on its merits.

Moussaoui is the only person charged in this country in the Sept. 11 attacks. He pleaded guilty to six conspiracy counts, admitting he came to the U.S. to join al-Qaida attacks on buildings but denying specific knowledge of the Sept. 11 plot.

The 37-year-old Frenchman of Moroccan descent has vowed to fight for his life. He entered the 10th-floor courtroom wearing a green jumpsuit, the word “prisoner” on his back, and looked around at the prospective jurors. When Moussaoui began to speak, the judge said it was not his time to do so.

‘I am not resisting’
Moussaoui spoke calmly but defiantly. He held his hands behind his back, neither handcuffed nor shackled.

“I am not resisting,” he said when the judge ordered marshals to take him out the first time.

Zacarias Moussaoui Faces Terrorists Indictments
Getty Images File  /  Getty Images
Zacarias Moussaoui, a French citizen of Moroccan descent, faces a sentence of life in prison or the death penalty for conspiring with al-Qaida.
When he was gone, the judge explained the questionnaire to the jury pool. Brinkema planned to bring the pool into the courtroom in four groups through the day and to present the 49-page questionnaire, made up of 159 questions. She winnowed the questions down from 89 proposed by prosecutors and 306 recommended by defense attorneys.

Moussaoui was hurried by motorcade into the U.S. District Court a few hours before his jury selection started, a trip of several blocks from his cell at an Alexandria jail.

Prosecutors contend Moussaoui could have prevented the attacks, which killed nearly 3,000 people, by telling authorities about al-Qaida’s designs while he was in a Minnesota jail before Sept. 11. He had aroused suspicion while training to fly Boeing 747 jumbo jets.

Defendant vows ‘to fight every inch’
When a jury is selected, jurors will be asked to decide first whether Moussaoui’s acknowledged actions qualify him for the death penalty and then, if so, whether he deserves it. If either answer is no, he will get a life sentence. Once a jury is picked, opening statements are set for March 6. The trial could last one to three months.

Moussaoui has vowed “to fight every inch against the death penalty.”

Arguing for execution, prosecutors contend Moussaoui could have told investigators what he knew when arrested instead of lying about his intentions. The defense argues that Moussaoui knew less about 9/11 than the government, citing investigations that turned up multiple missed opportunities that might have headed off the attacks.

The public cannot attend the jury selection but will allowed into the penalty trial.

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