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France Reacts Cautiously to Moussaoui Indictment

France has reacted cautiously to the indictment of Frenchman Zacarias Moussaoui, the first person charged by a U.S. federal grand jury for participating in the September 11 attacks.

To the few Americans who knew him, Zacarias Moussaoui was a bumbling flight student who showed no interest in taking off and landing lessons at the Minnesota piloting school he attended. Arrested in August on immigration violations, Mr. Moussaoui was formally indicted Tuesday for conspiring in the September 11 terrorist attacks.

But in his native France, Mr. Moussaoui has a more complicated past. French Justice Minister Marylise Lebranchu said Mr. Moussaoui would benefit from French consular help while on trial in the United States, and should not be executed if he is found guilty.

Born to Moroccan parents in the Basque town of St. Jean de Luz, 33-year-old Mr. Moussaoui reportedly had an unremarkable childhood. He left for London in 1992, to improve his English. It was there, according to French and British news reports, that Mr. Moussaoui was drawn to Islamic extremists, and later to the al-Qaida network of Osama bin Laden.

In an interview published in France's Le Parisien newspaper, Mr. Moussaoui's mother said she had received a letter from her son denying the terrorism charges. She said she feared U.S. prosecutors would fabricate evidence against him.

Mr. Moussaoui's mother, Aisha, has previously described her son as a kind person who was incapable of lying.

But others in France have different recollections of Mr. Moussaoui. According to local news reports, French police have long suspected Mr. Moussaoui of helping finance Algerian extremist groups while in London, and of having links to al-Qaida.

During his last visit to France, in 1997, Mr. Moussaoui reportedly got into a violent dispute with an Islamic cleric who accused him of indoctrinating others with false beliefs.