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France opened Moussaoui file in '94

"Don't worry, I didn't do anything," Moussaoui wrote his mother. "And I can prove it, in time ... if God wills it."  

By CNN's Jim Boulden

LONDON, England (CNN) -- Zacarias Moussaoui -- the would-be pilot who was arrested in Minnesota only weeks before the September 11 attacks -- was under investigation in France as early as 1994.

Now U.S. officials say Moussaoui conspired with Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda to "murder thousands of people" in New York, Pennsylvania and at the Pentagon.

Moussaoui has been charged with six counts of conspiracy and is accused of "undergoing the same training, receiving the same funding and pledging the same commitment to kill Americans as the hijackers," according to U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft.

Moussaoui was arrested for an immigration violation in mid-August, after a Minnesota flight school allegedly told the FBI that Moussaoui wanted to fly a jumbo jet -- when he could barely handle a private plane.

Published reports also indicated Moussaoui had asked to learn how to fly straight but not take off or land.

The school says those reports are not true. But it is true that French anti-terror authorities already had a file on Moussaoui and gave what little information they had to the FBI.

French investigation

Moussaoui's file was opened in 1994, when French authorities believed they had the name and location of a paymaster for suspected Algerian terrorists.

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The single name they had was "Zacarias." The location was London. Zacarias Moussaoui was in London at the time, and a French anti-terrorist judge decided to interview him there.

"In 1994, he went to London and asked to speak to Zacarias Moussaoui," says investigative journalist Wayne Bodkin, who has talked at length with Moussaoui's family about his life.

"He wanted to interview him and not only that, he wanted to carry out a search in Zacarias Moussaoui's apartment in Streatham. They actually had the address which they gave. That was refused by the British Home Office."

The French judge was told he didn't have enough evidence under British law to interview Moussaoui to see if he was the "Zacarias" they wanted.

Moussaoui was eventually dropped from the French inquiry.

Early life

Before then, there was little in the life of Moussaoui to raise suspicion.

Young Moussaoui
Moussaoui was born in southwest France in 1968 to a Moroccan family  

He was born in southwest France in 1968 to a Moroccan family. His name came from the Old Testament.

But the family drifted apart, and Zacarias and his brother Ab Samad moved out in 1991. Zacarias headed north to Montpellier to study business. But in 1993, for some reason, he left university and went to London.

"According to his brother, he just went to London, on the spur of the moment, it was just one of those things, no contacts, nowhere to go, no address," says Bodkin.

"He just went with some money in his pocket and it was really hard. There was an initial few months he found it very, very difficult in London."

But he was eventually befriended by the local mosque in Brixton, in south London, and earned a master's degree in international business from London's South Bank University.

But throughout the late 1990s, as Moussaoui drifted between London and elsewhere, friends at the Brixton Mosque and in France say they saw a real change in him.

Moussaoui grew a beard, started to dress in traditional Pakistani clothes and began espousing his brand of militant Islam to others.

Moussaoui started to attend London's more radical mosques to hear clerics like Abu Qatada speak.

Talk of jihad

Eventually, he was asked to leave the moderate Brixton Mosque because of his talks about a jihad, or holy war, against the West.

Moussaoui's mother, Aicha: "They asked me whether I knew where Zacarias was. I said that I didn't know."  

During his seven years in London, Moussaoui's family and French investigators say he traveled to Pakistan, Turkey and Afghanistan.

Although Zacarias Moussaoui was one of thousands of names in French investigators' files throughout the 1990s, French investigative sources tell CNN that, contrary to media reports, Moussaoui was not an active target for investigators in Paris or London.

There simply was no evidence of any terror links beyond his trips to Afghanistan.

France's top anti-terrorist judge, Jean-Louis Bruguiere, has opened a formal investigation into the activities of Moussaoui.

He won't discuss what he's learned about Moussaoui. But investigative sources say Moussaoui was never arrested while living or traveling in France. And French authorities routinely detain those with any hint of terrorist links.

"We know exactly in France because we arrested a lot of people, about 300 people who could be involved over the years," says Bruguiere.

"And I conducted about a thousand searches. So, I can obtain many, many elements, judicial elements that can go into computers and analyse that."

Death of a friend

French investigators again became interested in Moussaoui in April 2000, when a close childhood friend of the Moussaoui brothers, Xavier Jaffo, was killed while fighting in Chechnya.

Web site
Masood Al-Benin's Web site  

Jaffo's Web site tells his story under his Islamic name, Masood Al-Benin.

Al-Benin was in London with Moussaoui in the mid-1990s and converted to Islam at a ceremony at the London Central Mosque. Investigators believe Al-Benin and Moussaoui then traveled together to Chechnya.

After Al-Benin died, the DST, the French counterintelligence service, knocked on the door of Moussaoui's mother, Aicha Moussaoui.

Web site of Masood Al-Benin, friend of Moussaiou who was killed in Chechnya 

"They asked me whether I knew where Zacarias was. I said that I didn't know," says Aicha Moussaoui.

"They said that he had a friend who had died, and they wanted to know whether he had been with him. I said: 'No, I don't know.' And then they left."

By the time his best friend was dead, it's believed Moussaoui was already back in London. By now he had shaved his beard and resumed wearing Western clothing. Acquaintances in London say he talked of blending with the enemy.

At times he lived at a flat on Lambert Road in Brixton, which police raided the night of September 11. He had used the Brixton address when he arrived in Oklahoma in February 2001 for flying lessons.

In early August, German investigators say, Moussaoui was wired thousands of dollars from Germany to Minnesota -- where he began a flight-training course later that month.

The money supposedly was wired from the same cell that helped suspected hijacking leader Mohammed Atta -- the most direct link investigators have to the September 11 attacks.

Letter from New York

After his arrest in August, Moussaoui's mother had no word from him -- until a letter arrived in October. It was four pages long, written in French, from a New York City detention center.

Moussaoui's letter: "I have got the impression that I have already been condemned"  

Investigative reporter Bodkin has talked at length with Moussaoui's family about his life, and he read the letter with Moussaoui's mother.

"Don't worry, I didn't do anything," Bodkin quoted from the letter. "And I can prove it, in time, when the time comes ... if God wills it. I haven't got access to any information, but I have got the impression that I have already been condemned, from what my lawyers have told me."

Moussaoui wrote in his letter that he thinks he will be put on trial, but that it could take another year.

"Don't worry, they are going to try and fabricate proof that, as well as witnesses. I have not given them proof or witnesses of anything and with God's help, I will make it all look completely ridiculous, their plot which they are hatching."


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