WASHINGTON A federal grand jury indicted a French Moroccan for conspiracy in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the first indictment directly related to the suicide hijackings, Attorney General John Ashcroft announced today.
"Al-Qaida will now meet the justice it abhors and the judgment it fears," Ashcroft said.
The suspect, Zacarias Moussaoui, had raised investigators' suspicions by seeking flight lessons in Minnesota a month before the hijackings.
Ashcroft said the 30-page indictment lists six counts against Moussaoui, four of them punishable by death if he is convicted. He also announced a list of unindicted co-conspirators, including Osama bin Laden.
The indictment was issued by a grand jury in the Eastern District of Virginia, charging Moussaoui "with conspiring with Osama bin Laden and al-Qaida to murder thousands of innocent people in New York, Virginia and Pennsylvania on Sept. 11."
"Today, three months after the assault on our homeland, the United States of America has brought the awesome weight of justice against the terrorists who brutally murdered innocent Americans," Ashcroft said.
"The indictment issued today is a chronicle of evil," Ashcroft said.
Ashcroft called Moussaoui "an active participant" in the terrorist attacks, and said he was charged with "undergoing the same training, receiving the same funding and pledging the same commitment to kill Americans" as the terrorists on the hijacked planes.
Moussaoui was indicted on six counts, four of which carry the death penalty. The counts were conspiracy to commit acts of terrorism, to commit aircraft piracy, to destroy aircraft, to use weapons of mass destruction, murder and conspiracy to destroy property.
It says he trained at an al-Qaida camp in Afghanistan, received flight training in the United States, received money from sources in Germany and the Middle East and pledged to kill Americans.
Ashcroft said listing some suspects as unindicted co-conspirators did not preclude them from facing indictment as the investigation progresses.
Referring to the progress of the military campaign, Ashcroft said that "7,000 miles from the field of battle in Afghanistan, another victory is taking shape in the war on terrorism."
The attorney general called the indictment "an important step in securing justice for the victims of Sept. 11." He said victims had been waiting three months for the terrorists to be brought to account, and that the Justice Department would soon be making available to victims a Web site and toll-free phone number "to follow the progress of this prosecution."
Moussaoui was detained Aug. 17 on immigration charges after officials at a flight school where he sought training grew suspicious and called authorities. He has been held as a material witness someone with possibly important information in the investigation of the terrorist attacks.
U.S. officials had spoken of Moussaoui as possibly an intended 20th member of the hijacking team. But FBI Director Robert Mueller this month told federal prosecutors that a computer owned by Moussaoui did not link him to the Sept. 11 attacks. Mueller then named Ramsi Binalshibh, a Yemeni fugitive, as the man who may have planned to be on United Airlines Flight 93 that crashed in Pennsylvania.
Moussaoui has been the subject of intense scrutiny since the attacks, which occurred while he was in custody. Prosecutors had wanted to search his computer but were unable to get approval for the warrant until after Sept. 11.
The search showed that Moussaoui had gathered information about "dispersal of chemicals" as well as about crop-duster planes, Mueller said last month.
The discovery prompted the Bush administration to temporarily ground crop-dusters as a precaution against a possible biochemical terrorist attack.
When he was seeking flying lessons, Moussaoui had said he wanted to learn how to fly but not to take off and land, Mueller said.
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Last month, his mother, Aicha Moussaoui, told The Associated Press that her son had written her a letter saying he is innocent. "I believe him," said the mother, who lives in Narbonne in southern France. "As a young boy, he was never a liar."