May 3, 2006

Moussaoui gets life in jail

By Deborah Charles

ALEXANDRIA, Virginia (Reuters) - Zacarias Moussaoui, the
only person convicted in a U.S. court for the September 11
attacks, should go to prison for life rather than be executed
for his role in the hijacking plot, a jury decided on

Federal prosecutors had argued Moussaoui's failure to warn
law enforcement officers who detained him about the upcoming
attacks made him as guilty as if he had carried them out

But not all members of the jury of nine men and three
women, who last month found Moussaoui eligible for the death
penalty, agreed. The law requires a unanimous verdict.

The 37-year-old French citizen of Moroccan descent, who was
in jail on September 11, 2001, after raising suspicions at a
flight school, will be formally sentenced on Thursday.

"America you lost!" Moussaoui shouted as he left the
courtroom after hearing the verdict. He clapped his hands and
shouted, "I won!"

The verdict in the complicated case marked a defeat for
government prosecutors, who had asked jurors to return the
death penalty against Moussaoui, an admitted al Qaeda member
who expressed no remorse at trial for the September 11 victims.

"It was a mistake of the government to make Moussaoui the
poster child for the 9/11 conspiracy to begin with," said
Daniel Benjamin, a terrorism analyst and former member of the
Clinton administration.

The verdict was reached after seven days of deliberations
and was read by U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema at the
courthouse in Alexandria, Virginia, not far from the Pentagon,
the site of one of the 2001 attacks.

Last year Moussaoui pleaded guilty to six counts of
conspiracy, three of which could have carried a sentence of

At the White House, President George W. Bush hailed the
sentencing of the man he said "openly rejoiced" at the deaths
on September 11 and said "evil" had been vanquished.

"The end of this trial represents the end of this case, but
not an end to the fight against terror," Bush said. "...And we
can be confident. Our cause is right, and the outcome is
certain: Justice will be served. Evil will not have the final

Family members of victims, some of whom sat in the
courtroom as the verdict was read, said they were pleased with
the sentence.

"He will be in jail for the rest of his life, which is
exactly what this man deserves," said Carie Lemack, whose
mother died on one of the airplanes that was crashed into New
York's World Trade Center.


"He's an al Qaeda wannabe and he does not deserve any
credit for 9/11 because he was not part of it, and I am so glad
the jury recognized that."

Moussaoui sat praying silently as Brinkema read the
verdict. He appeared to relax after she said the jurors did not
unanimously agree that a sentence of death should be imposed.

The jury did not find that Moussaoui's actions resulted in
the deaths of around 3,000 people on September 11 -- a central
part of the government's demand for the death penalty.

Three of the 12 jurors found that Moussaoui's role in the
9/11 operation, if any, was minor, Brinkema said.

"Three jurors found the defendant had limited knowledge of
the 9/11 attack plans," she said, reading from the lengthy
verdict form.

None of the jurors found that Moussaoui's execution might
create a martyr for radical Muslim fundamentalists and al Qaeda
in particular.

Anti-death penalty activists said the case showed U.S.
juries were less willing to impose capital punishment than in
the past, even in a case of such wrenching emotion. They said
the number of death penalties imposed by juries had fallen
dramatically since the late 1990s and continued to drop.

Moussaoui was arrested three weeks before the September 11
attacks, in which hijackers rammed commercial airliners into
buildings in New York and outside Washington. Another plane
went down in a Pennsylvania field.

During testimony in the sentencing trial, Moussaoui said he
was meant to pilot a fifth airplane into the White House as
part of the plot -- a contradiction of his earlier claims that
he was meant to be part of a second wave of attacks.