by Philip Shenon, New York Times
ALEXANDRIA, Va., Zacarias
Moussaoui, charged with conspiring in the Sept. 11
terror attacks, called today for the destruction of
the United States and Israel in his first extensive
public comments since his arrest. He urged a federal
judge to allow him to fire his court-appointed defense
lawyers and represent himself.
"America, I am ready to fight," said Mr. Moussaoui,
33, a French citizen who was arrested last August and
has been accused by federal authorities of being the
"20th hijacker" in the attacks. "I want to fight
against the evil force of the federal government."
A hearing that was supposed to focus on defense
complaints about Mr. Moussaoui's prison cell
conditions took a startling turn today when the
defendant walked into the courtroom in this Washington
suburb, sat down and immediately raised his hand.
Recognized by the judge to speak, he began a
50-minute discourse on Islam and what he described as
the corrupt American justice system, accusing his
lawyers of joining in a governmentwide, anti-Muslim
conspiracy to execute him.
"They have no understanding of terrorism, Muslims,
mujahadeen," Mr. Moussaoui said, motioning toward the
three Virginia lawyers appointed by the court last
year to defend him.
"They are not my attorneys, and this point is
clear," he said, his tone both calm and defiant as he
read from a sheaf of prepared notes. "I believe they
are experienced. They are experienced in deception."
He said the lawyers were motivated by "greed, fame and
He said he wanted to represent himself at trial,
possibly with the assistance of a Muslim lawyer, a
request that Judge Leonie M. Brinkema said she was
inclined to grant on the basis of past Supreme Court
rulings. He also requested a nonjury trial, with Judge
Brinkema rendering the verdict, a request that she
described as premature.
As his court-appointed lawyers looked on,
occasionally shaking their heads, Mr. Moussaoui also
spoke out against several countries, including the
United States, Israel and Russia, saying he prayed to
Allah for "the destruction of the United States of
America" and for the "destruction of the Jewish people
With his remarks, Mr. Moussaoui, who lived for
several years in Britain and proved himself today to
be well versed in American legal jargon, embraced the
government's description of him as a Muslim extremist
who supported Osama bin Laden's call for the
destruction of the United States.
Quoting frequently from the Koran, Mr. Moussaoui
framed his trial as a struggle between a devout Muslim
willing to die for his religious beliefs and a group
of "pagans, Jews, Christians and hypocrites." He
described himself repeatedly as a "slave of
Still, Mr. Moussaoui made clear that he stood by
his not-guilty plea and said that he wanted "to defend
my life." He reminded the court, "I am innocent until
proven guilty," and he said he had been repeatedly
rebuffed in his efforts since to hire capable Muslim
Prosecutors offered no objection to Mr. Moussaoui's
request to defend himself. Justice Department
officials in Washington said they were perplexed by
the request, although one senior official said Mr.
Moussaoui "may believe, incorrectly, that he can avoid
the death penalty if he creates the appearance of some
sort of anti-Muslim prejudice within the
Mr. Moussaoui, who was in a Minnesota prison cell
on Sept. 11 on immigration charges, has denied that he
conspired with Mr. bin Laden and the Qaeda terrorist
network in the attacks on the World Trade Center and
He was arrested last summer after his instructors
at a flight school in Eagan, Minn., alerted the
Federal Bureau of Investigation to what they described
as his suspicious behavior. Federal prosecutors have
said that that Mr. Moussaoui was meant to be aboard
one of the four hijacked planes on Sept. 11.
The leader of his court-appointed defense team,
Frank W. Dunham Jr., who is the chief federal public
defender in Alexandria, stood up warily after Mr.
Moussaoui had completed his statement.
"I'm not going to rebut Mr. Moussaoui here openly
in court in front of the government point by point,
except to say that we have tried as hard as we can to
work with him in a responsible manner, and apparently
that is not going to work," Mr. Dunham said.
Judge Brinkema, who is overseeing the case in
federal court in Alexandria, only a few miles from the
Pentagon, said that she was ready to allow Mr.
Moussaoui to serve as his own lawyer if a psychiatrist
found that he was mentally competent.
But she urged him to reconsider his position, and
she said she would keep the defense team in place to
serve as a backup if he were found incapable of
"You're obviously a very smart man and you're able
to read American law books and glean from some of the
rulings, but I have to tell you that the American
legal system is complicated," she said. "I am not
going to permit you to be in a court of law without
any legal sources whatsoever."
Even as he requested that Judge Brinkema rather
than a jury decide his fate, Mr. Moussaoui accused her
of working with prosecutors and the court-appointed
defense lawyers in a conspiracy that would end in his
He said the government was "spending millions of
their evil money to kill me." Judge Brinkema, he said,
"is here as a field general entrusted to get this
matter over with quickly," accusing her of taking
orders from the White House and President Bush. "Every
general has a commander in chief, and I know how much
the U.S. commander in chief wants me to be over
"My experience tells me that the U.S. will not
hesitate to have a trial without me," he said. "After
all, they only need me for the gas chamber