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Moussaoui Withdraws Guilty Plea

The only man charged in connection with the September 11 terrorist attacks in the U.S. has withdrawn his guilty plea. After first deciding to enter a guilty plea to terrorism and related charges, Zacarias Moussaoui suddenly changed his mind and withdrew that plea Thursday, under questioning from a federal judge outside Washington. The case now looks set to go to trial in late September.

The court appearance began with federal judge Leonie Brinkema ruling Zacarias Moussaoui is mentally competent to defend himself. He then entered a guilty plea to charges of conspiring with the September 11 hijackers. This, after the judge had given him a week to think about that plea before the judge would allow him to enter it.

But he refused to plead guilty to two additional charges, plotting to kill U.S. government employees and destroying property. At that point, the case took another twist. Judge Brinkema asked Mr. Moussaoui whether he was prepared to admit full guilt in the September 11 conspiracy as the indictment against him alleges, or only to some of the charges, leading to another Moussaoui outburst.

"I plead guilty to what's in the indictment," he said, "but it still doesn't put me on the plane." With that, he again reversed course, withdrawing the guilty plea entered only minutes earlier, while accusing the court of trying to place him at the center of the September 11 attacks and, as he put it, wanting "to guarantee my death."

The 34-year-old French Moroccan has already admitted membership in Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida network, whose followers are blamed for last September's attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people and thrust the United States into the on-going war against terrorism.

A pilot in training, prosecutors allege Mr. Moussaoui would have been the 20th hijacker if he had not already been detained on immigration charges a month before the attacks. If the judge now allows the case to go forward, the trial of Zacarias Moussaoui would begin September 30.