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French Criticize US Decision on Moussaoui Death Penalty - 2002-03-29

Paris reacted cautiously to news that the United States will seek the death penalty for Frenchman Zacarias Moussaoui, who is charged in connection with the September 11 terrorist attacks.

In a statement, French Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine said France regrets the decision of U.S. attorney general John Ashcroft to seek the death penalty for Zacarias Moussaoui.

Mr. Moussaoui, a French national, is suspected of being the so-called 20th hijacker in the September 11 terrorist attacks in the United States. He has been charged with conspiring with the men who hijacked four airliners and crashed three of them into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

France abolished the death penalty more than 20 years ago, and many French adamantly oppose the concept. Paris earlier asked the American government to not seek the death penalty for the 33-year-old Mr. Moussaoui.

Steve Ekovich, a professor of French politics at the American University of Paris, says many French probably feel mixed emotions about the penalty Mr. Moussaoui may face.

"Most French consider the abolition of the death penalty as a mark of civilized society. On the other hand, Moussaoui was allegedly preparing a terribly barbaric act," he said.

Other political experts say France may think twice about providing U.S. authorities with more information about Mr. Moussaoui. According to news reports, France has cooperated closely with Washington, sharing its considerable file on Mr. Moussaoui's past.

In his statement, Foreign Minister Vedrine also said France remains "in solidarity with America's fight against terrorism." France is prepared to continue consultations with the U.S., he said, providing any information shared could not be used as a basis for a request for the death penalty.