Former Housemate Says Moussaoui Recruited Him to Fight Holy War

By Timothy Dwyer and Fred Barbash
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, March 21, 2006; 1:59 PM

At the time he was arrested by government agents in 2001, Zacarias Moussaoui was in the process of recruiting a Muslim friend to join him in an act of holy war involving airplanes and knives, according to testimony today during Moussaoui's death penalty trial.

Hussein al-Attas, a former roommate of Moussaoui, said in a taped deposition that Moussaoui took him to a sporting goods store, where they purchased small knives and boots, and instructed him how to change his appearance so as not to arouse suspicion.

Under cross-examination by Moussaoui's defense lawyer, however, al-Attas denied in the deposition that he had planned to participate in terrorist activities in the United States himself or planned to destroy aircraft.

The testimony came as the sentencing hearing resumed for the only person convicted in the United States of charges stemming from the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001. Jurors in Alexandria will determine whether Moussaoui should receive the death penalty or be sentenced to life in prison.

In an effort to show that Moussaoui could have prevented the Sept. 11 attacks had he been truthful when he was arrested the month before on immigration charges, prosecutors have been attempting to describe his conspiratorial activities during the period, including his enrollment in a flight-training school and his relationship with al-Attas.

Al-Attas said he met Moussaoui at a mosque in Norman, Okla., in February 2001 and that they became roommates six months later. Moussaoui enrolled in a flight school in Norman before going to Minnesota for more advanced flight training.

Al-Attas testified that Moussaoui instructed him to go to Pakistan to learn more about his obligations to fight an Islamic holy war.

Before finalizing the trip, however, the two traveled at Moussaoui's expense to Minnesota, where they went shopping for knives, boots and global positioning devices. He told al-Attas to shave his beard and not speak Arabic in public in order to avoid arousing suspicion.

Al-Attas said he never asked Moussaoui to explain the purpose of the shopping trip or of the beard-shaving because Moussaoui told him not to ask any questions.

"I was following orders," said al-Attas. "I didn't ask him."

While they were in Minnesota, the two of them were watching a large plane flying overhead while Moussaoui commented on how easy it was to fly such jets because of computerization, al-Attas recalled.

"The airplane can fly while the pilot is sleeping," Moussaoui commented, according to al-Attas.

He also testified that Moussaoui had taught him some martial arts moves in a motel room in Minnesota and had tried to intervene with the Pakistani Embassy in Washington to help him get a visa for that country so that he could meet with radical Islamists there and decide for himself whether he wanted to participate in jihad, or Muslim holy war.

In August 2001, FBI agents arrested Moussaoui and al-Attas, who was ultimately deported for immigration violations.

Al-Attas said he lied to the agents about his dealings with Moussaoui because "I was so scared."

In the cross-examination, defense attorney Edward B. MacMahon Jr. sought to punch holes in the prosecution's contention that Moussaoui was recruiting al-Attas for terrorist activities. Al-Attas said he had no plans to engage in such acts.

He also testified that Moussaoui, 37, a French citizen of Moroccan origin, was not well-liked at the mosque they attended in Norman. Moussaoui tried to encourage worshipers there to leave America, saying that Muslims should not live in the United States, al-Attas said.

Al-Attas, 28, a Saudi of Yemeni descent, was detained for more than 14 months and pleaded guilty to seven counts of making false statements to federal agents.

Moussaoui was present when al-Attas was deposed in June 2004, but the questions on cross-examination were asked by MacMahon.

Staff writer William Branigin contributed to this report.

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