WASHINGTON — In the first criminal indictment stemming from Sept. 11, federal prosecutors on Tuesday charged a French man of Moroccan descent who was jailed a month before the attacks with conspiring with Osama bin Laden to murder thousands in the suicide hijackings.
The 30-page indictment against Zacarias Moussaoui, 33, laid out in copious detail an international plot dating to 1998 that involved the 19 hijackers, bin Laden, top al-Qaida deputies and hundreds of thousand of dollars.
"Al-Qaida will now meet the justice it abhors and the judgment it fears," Attorney General John Ashcroft said in announcing the indictment on the three month anniversary of the deadly hijackings.
Though jailed Aug. 17 in Minnesota after raising suspicions while seeking flight training, Moussaoui had worked in concert with bin Laden associates to carry out the Sept. 11 attacks, the attorney general alleged. He is charged with six felonies.
The indictment said Moussaoui’s activities mirrored those of the 19 hijackers — he attended flight school, opened a bank account with cash, joined a gym, purchased knives, bought flight deck videos and looked into crop dusting planes.
The indictment also identifies bin Laden and other alleged member of al-Qaida network as unindicted co-conspirators.
Among the unindicted co-conspirators was Ramsi Binalshibh, a Yemeni fugitive who lived in Germany with some of the hijackers. FBI Director Robert Mueller has said Binalshibh was supposed to be the 20th hijacker on Sept. 11, but failed to make it into the United States.
The indictment also suggests that when Binalshibh was denied entry into America, Moussaoui was supposed to step in.
Binalshibh wired $14,000 to Moussaoui in early August. Several days later, Moussaoui paid $6,300 in cash to a flight school in Minnesota.
Moussaoui, 33, is being held in New York and has not cooperated with authorities. The indictment said in an initial interview with federal agents on Aug. 17, he "attempted to explain his presence in the United States by falsely stating that he was simply interested in learning to fly."
Moussaoui was detained on immigration charges after officials at the Minnesota flight school where he sought lessons grew suspicious and called authorities. He wanted to learn how to take off and land but not fly, Mueller has said.
The FBI had wanted to search his computer then but were unable to get approval for the warrant until after Sept. 11.
The search showed Moussaoui had gathered information about "dispersal of chemicals" as well as about crop-duster planes. The discovery prompted the Bush administration to temporarily ground crop-dusters as a precaution against a possible biochemical terrorist attack.
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