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April 23, 2002
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Terror Suspect Says He Wants U.S. Destroyed

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 vanity."

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 and state."

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 Allah."

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 lawyers.

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 government."

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 the Pentagon.

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 defending himself.

"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 execution.

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 quickly."

"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






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