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US to Seek Death Penalty for 9-11 Terrorist Suspect - 2002-03-28

Federal prosecutors have decided to seek the death penalty in the case of suspected terrorist Zacarias Moussaoui, the only person charged in connection with the September 11 terrorist attacks.

Justice Department prosecutors notified a federal court in Virginia Thursday that they will seek the death penalty for Mr. Moussaoui. He faces six conspiracy charges including conspiracy to commit acts of terrorism, to commit air piracy and to use weapons of mass destruction. Four of the six counts are punishable by death if he is found guilty.

U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft announced the death penalty decision after officiating at a citizenship ceremony in Miami, Florida. "In the notice, we have alleged numerous reasons, called aggravating factors, which we believe indicate why the death penalty is appropriate. Among these reasons is the impact of the crime on thousands of victims. To that end, we remain committed not only to carrying out justice in this case, but also to ensuring that the rights of the victims are fully protected," he said.

Zacarias Moussaoui has pled not guilty to the charges and his trial is scheduled to start September 30. He is the only person so far charged with direct involvement in the September 11 terrorist attacks.

In the court papers filed Thursday, prosecutors say Mr. Moussaoui engaged in an act of violence that constituted "a reckless disregard for human life" in what they called "an especially heinous, cruel and depraved manner."

Mr. Moussaoui was actually in custody on September 11 after having raised suspicions among instructors at a flight school in Minnesota.

Mr. Moussaoui is a French citizen of Moroccan descent and France recently asked Attorney General Ashcroft not to seek the death penalty in his case.