Correction to This Article
The article incorrectly described the status of a subpoena for then-Rep. Curt Weldon (R-Pa.). Weldon had been subpoenaed, but the subpoena was quashed two days before the article was published.
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The Man Who Wasn't There on 9/11

He was born in the Basque region of France, to a Moroccan father and a French mother, according to interviews and court documents. His father was an abusive alcoholic, and Moussaoui spent his first five years in and out of orphanages, according to court records filed by the defense.

Although Moussaoui grew up only nominally practicing Islam, he moved to London as a young man to master English and became exposed to "the radical mosques which flourished in London in the 1990s," the court papers said.

Hooking up with bin Laden's organization, Moussaoui trained at an al-Qaeda camp in Afghanistan and managed an al-Qaeda guesthouse in Kandahar, he acknowledged in the court document he signed. He entered the United States in 2001 and began taking flying lessons at Airman Flight School in Norman, Okla.

As Sept. 11 approached, Moussaoui took a series of actions that closely mirrored those of the hijackers. He bought two knives and made sure their blades were short enough to get through airport security, according to court documents and the independent commission that investigated the 9/11 attacks. In August 2001, he received nearly $15,000 from al-Qaeda and began training on a 747 simulator at a flight school in Minnesota.

The 9/11 commission later concluded that Moussaoui was most likely being primed as a Sept. 11 replacement pilot and that the hijackers probably would have postponed their strike if his arrest had been announced.

Moussaoui's conduct raised suspicions at the flight school because he wanted to fly large jets when he had little training. He did not want a pilot's license. His instructor reported him to the authorities, and Moussaoui was arrested on immigration charges Aug. 16, 2001.

Moussaoui's actions were considered suspicious enough that the then-director of the CIA, George J. Tenet, was briefed, but a series of government missteps, chronicled at length by the 9/11 commission, prevented investigators from piecing together Moussaoui's intentions -- or the Sept. 11 plot.

After Sept. 11, Moussaoui emerged as a key suspect. Some government officials, including Vice President Cheney, suggested that he might have been the 20th hijacker, referring to the fact that the plane that crashed in a field in Pennsylvania had only four hijackers aboard. The other three planes had five hijackers each.

Moussaoui signed his plea agreement as the "20th hijacker," though he often called himself that in handwritten motions filed from jail, usually in a mocking tone.

But prosecutors have vehemently pointed out that they never called Moussaoui the 20th hijacker in any court proceeding, even as he has become known as that to many people. "Instead, the '20th hijacker' theory appears to be a creation of the media coverage and the isolated statements of certain government officials in the immediate aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks," prosecutors wrote in an appellate court brief filed in 2003.

Although the government has never spelled out his role, a federal grand jury in Alexandria indicted Moussaoui in December 2001 on conspiracy charges.

In July 2002, Moussaoui interrupted a routine court hearing and tried to plead guilty, claiming an intimate knowledge of the hijackings.

"I have certain knowledge about September 11," Moussaoui said, according to a transcript. "I know exactly who done it. I know which group, who participated, when it was decided. I have many information."

After Brinkema gave him a week to think about it, Moussaoui withdrew his plea and claimed that although he is an al-Qaeda member, he had no advance knowledge of the hijackings.

A constitutional showdown over Moussaoui's access to top al-Qaeda detainees, who Moussaoui's attorneys said had information that could clear him, then delayed the case for more than two years. Eventually, a federal appeals court ruled that Moussaoui could not interview the detainees but could present to the jury portions of statements they made to interrogators.

Last April 22, Moussaoui pleaded guilty to six conspiracy counts. Yet the day's proceedings only added to the uncertainty.

The court document Moussaoui signed said that he had participated in the al-Qaeda plot that culminated in Sept. 11 and that bin Laden had personally instructed him to fly an airplane into the White House. But when Moussaoui stepped to the lectern, he denied any role in Sept. 11 and said the White House attack would be an attempt to free Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman, who is imprisoned for the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.

"This conspiracy was a different conspiracy than 9/11," Moussaoui said.

As he was led from the courtroom by security officers, he shouted: "Lord! God curse America!"


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