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Conspiracy Suspect Zacarias Moussaoui Has Court Date - 2002-01-01

The man who some authorities believe was supposed to be the 20th hijacker in the terrorist attacks on September 11 is scheduled to appear in a federal court in Virginia Wednesday.

Zacarias Moussaoui is expected to enter a plea at Wednesday's arraignment in Alexandria, Virginia, just outside Washington. It is also expected that the judge handling the case will set a date for start of his trial.

Mr. Moussaoui is the only person charged so far by U.S. authorities in connection with the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington. He has been charged with six counts of conspiracy including conspiracy to commit international terrorism and conspiracy to use airplanes as weapons of mass destruction. Four of the six counts carry a possible death sentence upon conviction.

Mr. Moussaoui was arrested in mid-August after enrolling in a flight school in Minnesota. Authorities were tipped off after the suspect reportedly told instructors that he was more interested in learning how to steer a plane rather than landings and takeoffs.

FBI Director Robert Mueller announced the Moussaoui indictment last month. "The FBI continued to investigate Moussaoui after his detention and as we have uncovered information on the September 11 attacks, and as alleged in the indictment, Moussaoui followed many of the same patterns and many of the same steps as the 19 hijackers," explained Mr. Mueller.

The trial is expected to start within the next few months and the judge in the case has given prosecutors a deadline of March 29 to decide whether they will seek the death penalty if Mr. Moussaoui is convicted.

Meanwhile, two new opinion polls indicate that the attacks remain very much on the minds of the American public.

An Associated Press survey found that seven out of ten Americans fear another terrorist attack in the near future. But the poll also showed that more than half of those surveyed are optimistic about the direction the country is headed in.

In another poll by the Washington Post and ABC News, most of those surveyed said the United States has permanently changed for the better because of the terrorist attacks. More than half of those polled said the events of September 11 transformed their lives.