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France Warns US on Seeking Death Penalty for Moussaoui - 2002-03-20

France is warning the United States not to seek the death penalty against a French citizen accused in connection with the September 11 terrorist attacks. The French government says it may review its cooperation with the U.S. investigation into the attacks if suspect Zacarias Moussaoui faces a death sentence.

Four of the six charges against Zacarias Moussaoui carry the possibility of execution.

The United States says it will decide by March 29 whether to seek capital punishment in the case. A letter sent by prosecutors to the families of victims of the September 11 attacks indicates they will seek the death penalty if the Justice Department gives its approval.

A response from the French government came in a letter from Justice Minister Marylise Lebranchu to human rights groups. Amnesty International quotes the letter as saying France might have to change its arrangement with U.S. authorities if they use information gained from France to justify capital punishment.

An American prosecutor, Robert Spencer, is in France gathering evidence, with the permission of French authorities. Mr. Spencer tried to interview Mr. Moussaoui's brother, who refused to cooperate, and his mother, who failed to show up for an appointment.

Mr. Moussaoui was arrested in the United States in August on immigration charges and subsequently was charged with connections to the September 11 terrorist attacks.

France and other European Union countries have abolished the death penalty and have criticized the United States for not doing the same.