The only man tried and convicted in connection with the 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States had to be removed from a federal courtroom Monday as jury selection began in the penalty phase of his trial.
Convicted terrorist conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui appeared in a federal court in Virginia just outside Washington for the beginning of the penalty phase of his trial in which a jury of citizens will decide whether he is sentenced to death or to life in prison without the chance for parole.
But early in Monday's proceedings, Moussaoui was ordered out of the courtroom after interrupting federal Judge Leonie Brinkema who was talking at the time to prospective jurors.
Only a limited number of journalists were allowed to witness the court appearance because of space requirements.
Among them was Jeanne Meserve of the Cable News Network who briefed reporters on what she saw in the courtroom. "He stood up on his feet and said, 'I want to be heard.' The judge told him this was not a time for him to be speaking. He said, 'I do not want to be represented by these people, these people do not represent me.' The judge called the marshals over to take him out of the courtroom. He said, 'I am not resisting.' Then he said, 'They are not my lawyers. I am al-Qaida. They do not represent me. They are Americans.' And as he left the courtroom he said, 'This trial is a circus.'"
Moussaoui, a French citizen of Moroccan descent, is the only person charged and convicted in connection with the September 11th, 2001 terrorist attacks on New York, Washington and Pennsylvania.
Moussaoui previously pled guilty to six conspiracy counts and said he wanted to fly a plane into the White House. But Moussaoui also has said he was to be part of a follow-on attack after September 11 and has denied specific knowledge of the 9/11 plot.
Government prosecutors contend he had enough information that could have prevented the attacks and want him put to death. Moussaoui was arrested a few weeks before the attacks and was in custody when they were carried out.
Defense lawyers counter that the U.S. government knew more than their client did about al-Qaida's plan to attack the United States.
A jury selected from a pool of about 500 citizens from Northern Virginia will be asked to decide whether Moussaoui should be put to death or sent to prison for life. Jury selection is expected to take a few weeks.
The penalty phase of the trial is scheduled to begin March sixth and could last three months.