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Law

Moussaoui pleads guilty to terror charges

Defendant in 9/11 case says he will argue against death penalty




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Zacarias Moussaoui answered "guilty" to each felony count.
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Terror suspect Zacarias Moussaoui pleads guilty to all six counts against him.
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Audio Slide Show: Moussaoui plea

• Special report:  Fighting Terror
• Statement of facts:  U.S. vs. Moussaoui (PDF)external link
Transcript of hearing (PDF, 248KB)external link
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Zacarias Moussaoui
September 11 attacks

ALEXANDRIA, Virginia (CNN) -- Trying to distance himself from the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, and a potential death sentence, Zacarias Moussaoui described in a Virginia courtroom Friday how he sought to crash a jetliner into the White House.

"I was not part of 9/11," said Moussaoui, wearing a green jumpsuit with the word "Prisoner" on his back. "I'm not 9/11 material."

Moussaoui, an al Qaeda member who was arrested less than a month before the attacks after raising suspicions at a flight school, pleaded guilty Friday to all six terrorism conspiracy charges against him. (Profile)

No sentencing date has been set.

In Washington, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said he was "very pleased" with the guilty pleas and emphasized that the government remains firm in its hopes to execute Moussaoui.

"We are seeking the death penalty in the case," he said.

But Moussaoui vowed to fight the death penalty.

"Moussaoui will fight every inch against the death penalty," he said after entering his plea.

A 36-year-old French citizen of Moroccan heritage, Moussaoui became the first person convicted in the conspiracy behind the attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people when hijacked commercial airliners crashed into the twin towers of the World Trade Center, as well as the Pentagon and a field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania.

Moussaoui sought to clarify his plea shortly after U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema accepted it, saying he did not have a role in the attacks, but was part of a "broader conspiracy" aimed at post-September 11 attacks.

Specifically, he said his goal was to pilot a 747 and "strike the White House" with it. This was a "different conspiracy than 9/11," he said. (Full story)

"I came to the United States of America to be part, OK, of a conspiracy to use airplane as a weapon of mass destruction. ... Eventually," he said.

He said the goal of his plan was to free Sheikh Omar Abdul Rahman, the terrorist nicknamed "The Blind Sheikh" who is serving a life sentence for conspiring to bomb the World Trade Center in 1993 and other New York landmarks.

The hearing began with Moussaoui reiterating his intention to plead guilty to the terrorism charges.

Brinkema noted that Moussaoui's own court-appointed attorneys had advised against the guilty plea, but Moussaoui shot back, "I have made the decision."

The judge then read the six conspiracy counts against him, one by one: to commit acts of terrorism transcending national boundaries; to commit aircraft piracy; to destroy aircraft; to use weapons of mass destruction; to murder U.S. government employees; and to destroy U.S. government property.

"I want to plead guilty to the six charges in the indictment. It is absolutely correct," Moussaoui said in court.

Moussaoui reviewed a five-page "statement of facts" on the case, in which it says Osama bin Laden handpicked him to come to the United States "in the operation to fly planes into American buildings." It also says Moussaoui told an al Qaeda associate he would complete his flight simulator training before September 2001.

He then signed the paper and officially entered his plea.

Before accepting the plea, Brinkema questioned Alan Yamamoto, the only member of his defense team to whom Moussaoui still talks. She asked Yamamoto if Moussaoui understood the ramifications of his guilty pleas.

"We've argued about it. ... We've gone around in circles," Yamamoto said.

"He appears to understand that."

Brinkema then accepted the plea and said, "I am fully satisfied that Mr. Moussaoui is fully competent to enter his guilty pleas today."

At that point, Moussaoui began clarifying his role in the conspiracy and denied his involved in the September 11 plot.

Before the nearly hour-long hearing ended, Moussaoui said that during the sentencing phase he would again bring up the government's refusal to allow him to interview alleged September 11 master planners Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and Ramzi Binalshibh, who have told interrogators Moussaoui was not to participate in the attacks. Both Mohammed and Binalshibh were captured in Pakistan and detained overseas.

Brinkema said that point has been "properly made" and could be used as a mitigating factor in the penalty phase.

Moussaoui was arrested August 16, 2001, in Minnesota after raising suspicions at a flight school when he showed up paying close to $7,000 cash for Boeing 747 simulator training.

CNN's Kelli Arena and Phil Hirschkorn contributed to this report.


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