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FBI Agent Says Superiors Discounted Threat from 9/11 Conspirator Moussaoui


The penalty phase of the trial of convicted terrorist conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui resumed in Alexandria, Virginia, Monday, just outside Washington. Jurors heard testimony from an FBI agent who said that his superiors did not treat Moussaoui as a serious terror threat after he was arrested just three weeks before the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

The penalty phase of the trial is to determine whether Moussaoui should be put to death or spend the rest of his life in prison.

Moussaoui pleaded guilty to six conspiracy charges last April. He is the only person tried and convicted in connection with the 2001 terrorist attacks.

During Monday's session, FBI agent Harry Samit said he had trouble convincing his superiors that Moussaoui was a serious threat.

Agent Samit arrested Moussaoui on immigration violations three weeks before the 9/11 attacks. Samit said he believed Moussaoui had radical Islamic beliefs and that he was part of a terror conspiracy plotting to attack the United States.

Under questioning from Moussoui's defense attorney, Agent Samit accused FBI headquarters of criminal negligence in failing to press for a search warrant to search Moussaoui's belongings after his arrest.

Samit said he had sent numerous messages to his superiors asking for a search warrant but was, in his words, obstructed.

Government prosecutors maintain that Moussaoui misled investigators in the weeks before 9/11 and could have saved lives had he told what he knew of the terror plot.

Defense lawyers say Moussaoui did not know much about the plot and that he was supposed to be part of a follow-on attack that targeted the White House.

The penalty phase of the trial resumed after Judge Leonie Brinkema agreed to allow prosecutors to call new witnesses on aviation security. The trial was delayed last week after it came to light that a government lawyer had improperly coached several other aviation security witnesses.

Prosecutors say the witnesses are essential to demonstrate how the government would have moved to defend against the 9/11 attacks if Moussaoui had told what he knew about the plot.