Zacarias MoussaouiMay 30, 1968), a Frenchman of Moroccan descent, is the only person to be indicted in the United States in connection with the September 11, 2001 Terrorist Attack. He is accused of being the "20th hijacker" and conspiring with Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaida network to kill thousands of people.
In November of 2003, the FBI made mention of a different suspect as the 20th hijacker. Ramzi Binalshibh, a member of the Hamburg, Germany cell, was said to be the "first" 20th hijacker. He and Zakariyah Essabar were denied visass to the US, so the men allegedly scrambled to find another man to fill the spot. That's where Moussaoui allegedly falls in.
Moussaoui was arrested prior to 9/11 and charged with an immigration violation. After the attack, Moussaoui was implicated in the attack and in December, 2001 a federal grand jury in Virginia charged him with conspiracy "to murder thousands of innocent people in New York, Virginia and Pennsylvania."
His trial opened in October, 2002 in Alexandria, Virginia under the view of Judge Leonie Brinkema. Prior to the opening of the trial, Moussaoui, to the shock of his court-appointed attorneys, declined their assistance and asked to defend himself. Brinkema deemed him competent to defend himself and allowed the trial to move forward. Moussaoui has since requested the occasional assistance of attorneys to help him with technical issues.
Moussaoui has admitted his involvement with al-Qaida, but he claims he was not involved in the 9/11 attacks. Rather, he has claimed that he was preparing for a separate attack. Ramzi Binalshibh, an al-Qaida leader in U.S. custody and an alleged mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, has told investigators that Moussaoui met with him prior to 9/11, but Binalshibh chose not to use him. Binalshibh felt that Moussaoui had previously drawn too much attention to himself through a series of flight lessons and inquiries about crop dusting. No evidence directly linking Moussaoui to the 9/11 attacks has been released. Jemaah Islamiah leader Riduan Ismauddin, a.k.a. Hambali, sent cohort Yazid Sufaat to provide Moussaoui with $35,000 and travel documents in Malaysia in October 2000.
The case is widely seen as a barometer of the ability and willingness of the United States to give a fair hearing to terror suspects. Moussaoui has angered many people, including Judge Brinkema, with repeated outbursts and inflammatory statements. Moussaoui has admitted that he is using the trial as a soapbox to advertise Islamic fundamentalism and his views on America.
The trial has highlighted a tension in America between the judiciary and national security. Moussaoui has made requests for access to confidential documents and the right to call captive al-Qaida members as witnesses, notably Binalshibh. Both requests are claimed by prosecutors to be potential threats to national security. The motion to access confidential documents was denied by Judge Brinkema and a decision on the use of al-Qaida prisoners as witnesses is still pending. ''
Brinkema put the death penalty and 9/11 "off limits" on October 2, 2003, in reply to government defiance of her order to provide access to Moussaoui's witnesses. This is being appealed as of October 27. The latter restriction is no great problem for the prosecution, since the defendant seems pleased to admit involvement in a non-9/11 al-Qaida plot; but it would be an embarrassing end to the only 9/11 indictment likely to come. More ominously, it motivates the government to take future prosecutions to the military tribunals, where the defendant has very few rights.