May 8, 2006

Moussaoui wants to withdraw guilty plea

By Deborah Charles

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Zacarias Moussaoui, who was
sentenced last week to life in prison, filed a motion to
withdraw his guilty plea on Monday and said he lied when he
testified that he was meant to be part of the September 11
hijacking plot.

Moussaoui, 37, said in the affidavit filed with the motion
that he had pleaded guilty to conspiracy in connection with the
attacks against the advice of his lawyers because his
understanding of the U.S. legal system was "completely flawed."

"Because I now see that it is possible that I can receive a
fair trial, even with Americans as jurors and that I can have
the opportunity to prove that I did not have any knowledge of
and was not a member of the plot to hijack planes and crash
them into buildings on September 11, 2001, I wish to withdraw
my guilty plea and ask the court for a new trial to prove my
innocence of the September 11 plot," he said in the affidavit.

Last week a jury of nine men and three women decided that
Moussaoui, the only person charged in a U.S. court for the
hijacked airliner attacks, should go to prison for life rather
than be executed.

One of Moussaoui's court-appointed lawyers said the motion
to withdraw the guilty plea was likely a "futile effort."

Moussaoui's lawyers -- who rarely speak to their client --
said in a footnote that they were aware of a federal rule that
prohibits a defendant from withdrawing a guilty plea after a
sentence is imposed. But they said they filed the motion anyway
"given their problematic relationship with Moussaoui."

Over the past four years, Moussaoui tried several times to
fire his lawyers and said they were part of a conspiracy to
kill him.

When Moussaoui pleaded guilty to six counts of conspiracy
in April 2005, he said he was an al Qaeda operative and was
supposed to be a part of a second wave of hijackings.

But the Frenchman of Moroccan descent, who was arrested
three weeks before the September 11 attacks, changed his story
when he testified during his two-month sentencing trial. He
said he was supposed to have piloted a fifth plane into the
White House on September 11.

In the affidavit, Moussaoui said he had lied when he
testified in court.

"I have never met Mohamed Atta and, while I may have seen a
few of the other hijackers at the guest house, I never knew
them or anything about their operation," he said. During his
testimony, Moussaoui said he knew or recognized most of the
September 11 hijackers -- some from when he worked at an al
Qaeda guest house in Afghanistan.

Moussaoui said he was "extremely surprised" when the jury
did not return a verdict of death.

"I had thought that I would be sentenced to death based on
the emotions and anger toward me for the deaths on September
11," he said.