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French Diplomat Visits Moussaoui - 2002-07-19


Zacarias Moussaoui, the only person charged in connection with last September's terrorist attacks, met with a French diplomat in his prison cell Friday, a day after he told a federal judge he wants to plead guilty to charges that could lead to the death penalty. Friday's meeting comes amid more questions about whether the man authorities refer to as the 20th hijacker is competent to represent himself at trial.

This is the first time since his arrest nearly a year ago on immigration charges that Zacarias Moussaoui, who is a French citizen, has asked for a meeting with a representative of his own country, something he's entitled to under international law. Friday's thirty-minute session took place in a federal prison in Virginia, where Mr. Moussaoui is being held in solitary confinement on charges related to the September 11 terrorist attack.

On Thursday Mr. Moussaoui surprised a federal court by declaring himself a member of al-Qaida and a supporter of Osama bin Laden. But the judge refused to let him enter a guilty plea to charges that could see him executed, telling him instead to take a week to think about it.

Mr. Moussaoui's mother says her son is not in the right state of mind to act in his own defense. French government spokesman Francois Rivasseau emphasized France is leaving that judgment to the United States. "This is a problem for the American justice, not for us," he said.

And, he tells VOA France is not considering appointing a legal team if Mr. Moussaoui insists on his right to defend himself. "It's not up to the French government to say so," he said. " We don't think [about] what we don't have to think about."

But the Moussaoui case poses risks for U.S.-Franco relations because of French opposition to the death penalty. France has ruled out cooperating with the United States in the case if doing so could lead to the death of one of its own citizens.

"We have made this concern very clear to the American authorities and I think they are fully aware of our position," said Mr. Rivasseau.

In a case that has been anything but routine, Zacarias Moussaoui has used all of his courtroom appearances to lash out at his court-appointed lawyers and the judge, saying they really want to see him executed. This, along with his sudden request to plead guilty, is raising doubt he is fully aware of the consequences that entering guilty plea carries.

If the judge in the case decides Mr. Moussaoui does understand the law well enough to plead guilty on his own, this case would move quickly to the sentencing phase in which a jury would be called to recommend whether Mr. Moussaoui should be put to death.

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