Federal prosecutors want to know the religious beliefs and practices of potential jurors who will decide whether the only person charged in the United States in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks receives the death penalty or life in prison.
In a court filing Monday, the prosecutors listed 89 questions, many with multiple parts, designed to discern the views that prospective jurors have about Islam, the death penalty, the U.S. government and the defendant, Zacarias Moussaoui, 37, a French citizen of Moroccan descent.
U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema will decide which questions will be asked. She already has decided that 500 potential jurors will be summoned to the federal courthouse in Alexandria, Va., on Feb. 6 to begin what is expected to be a month-long jury selection process.
The U.S. government is seeking the death penalty against Moussaoui, who pleaded guilty to six conspiracy charges in April. Prosecutors allege that FBI agents might have been able to thwart the Sept. 11 attacks if Moussaoui had told them what he knew about al-Qaida’s desire to fly planes into U.S. buildings.
Moussaoui was in custody on immigration violations in Minnesota when the four commercial jets were crashed by 19 al-Qaida hijackers. He said he was not part of the Sept. 11 plot but was sent to the United States to train for a second wave of attacks.
He said his role was to hijack a 747 jet and fly it into the White House if the U.S. government refused to release Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman, an Egyptian cleric.
Rahman, known as “the blind sheikh,” is serving life in prison for crimes related to the 1993 World Trade Center bombing and the 1995 plots against New York landmarks.
The prosecutors want to ask what religions potential jurors belong to, whether they attend a place of worship and what, if anything, they know about Islam and people of Arab descent.
“How knowledgeable are you about the history and practices of Islam?” read one question. “Is there anything about a case where the defendant is a Muslim that would make it difficult for you to serve as a juror?” read another.
Some of the prosecutors’ questions focus on the Sept. 11 attacks, asking potential jurors if they had a relative or close friend who died when the four planes crashed at the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and in a field in Pennsylvania.
The questions also seek to identify jurors with ties to the Middle East, the U.S. military and commercial aviation.
And prosecutors want to know whether jurors speak or read Arabic, or whether they belong to groups such as the Veterans of Foreign Wars, American Civil Liberties Union or the National Rifle Association.