A French national of Moroccan descent has become the first person indicted for alleged involvement in the September 11 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington.
A federal grand jury in Virginia has indicted Zacarias Moussaoui on six counts of conspiracy in connection with the September 11 hijackings. The charges include conspiracy to commit terrorism, to use weapons of mass destruction and murder. Four of the counts could bring the death penalty upon conviction.
The criminal indictment is the first directly related to the September 11 attacks. The announcement was made in Washington by Attorney General John Ashcroft. "The United States alleges that Moussaoui engaged in the same preparation for murder as the 19 co-conspirators who carried out the September 11 hijackings," he said. "The indictment specifies that Moussaoui, like the 19 hijackers who killed themselves in the name of terror on September 11, trained at an al-Qaida affiliated camp in Afghanistan. It alleges that Moussaoui, like the others, received flight training in the United States. It alleges that Moussaoui, like the others, received funding from sources in Germany and the Middle East."
But Mr. Ashcroft declined to answer whether authorities believe that Mr. Moussaoui was supposed to be the 20th hijacker on September 11. Some law enforcement officials believe that a Yemeni fugitive, Ramsi Binalshibh, was supposed to be the 20th hijacker. But he was denied entry into the United States.
Three of the four planes hijacked on September 11 had teams of five hijackers. The fourth plane, which crashed in Pennsylvania after an apparent uprising by passengers, had only four hijackers on board.
FBI Director Robert Mueller says Zacarias Moussaoui has been reluctant to cooperate with authorities in the past. But he seemed to indicate that might be changing. "At the point in time after he was arrested on INS [immigration] charges, we obtained no further information from him. And consequently, while there was some information to follow up on which we did follow up on, he was not cooperative at that time."
The indictment also names Osama bin Laden and some of his lieutenants as unindicted co-conspirators in the September 11 attacks, meaning that authorities believe they were involved but are choosing not to formally charge them at this time.
Attorney General Ashcroft also issued another warning to those involved in the September 11 attacks that the United States will never give up in its effort to find those responsible and bring them to justice. "The United States will pursue and punish those who perpetrate terrorism," he said. "We will be relentless and resolute. We will not forget. And we will prevail."
Zacarias Moussaoui first came to the attention of investigators in mid-August when he was arrested in Minnesota on immigration violations. He had been taking flying lessons at a flight school and had aroused curiosity by asking how to steer a plane but not how to land or take off.