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Moussaoui Tries to Plead Guilty - 2002-07-18

A U.S. federal judge has refused to allow the only person charged in connection with last September's terrorists attacks to enter a guilty plea in connection with a new criminal indictment against him. A court appearance by French national Zacarias Moussaoui Thursday led to another unruly argument between the judge and the man who authorities accuse of being the 20th hijacker.

In federal court in Alexandria, Virginia, Zacarias Moussaoui declared himself a member of al-Qaida and a supporter of its leader, Osama bin Laden. But the judge cut him off, telling him his words could be used against him, refusing to allow him to enter a guilty plea.

Thursday's arraignment was called in response to a new criminal indictment in which the government laid out the reasons why it believes he should receive the death penalty. But the hearing quickly adjourned after another clash between Mr. Moussaoui and the judge who told him to take a week to think about how he wants to plead. Instead, the defendant shot back, telling the judge "you can bet, I will not change my plea," adding he could prove knowledge about the planning of the September 11 attacks.

The French Moroccan is being held in solitary confinement in a Virginia jail, charged with conspiring with supporters of Osama bin laden to carry out last September's terrorist attacks. A pilot in training, prosecutors allege he would have become the 20th hijacker if he had not already been detained on immigration charges a month before.

He refuses to accept a court-appointed defense team and has used his courtroom appearances to lash out at the judge, charging she has no interest in giving him a fair trial and really wants to see him executed.

Legal analysts say his outbursts continue to raise questions about whether he understands the American legal process and whether he should be judged competent to defend himself against a capital crime.

If the court does allow him to enter a guilty plea on all counts next week, there would be no trial and the case against him, which could lead to the death penalty, would move to the penalty phase.