NORMAN, Okla. – He could chat, he could be stubborn, but he couldn't straighten up and fly right.
Airman Flight School employees spoke Tuesday about their experiences with indicted terror suspect and former student Zacarias Moussaoui and remembered him as a frustrating but friendly man with linebacker looks.
Moussaoui, a 33-year-old Frenchman of Moroccan descent, was indicted on a federal conspiracy charge, accused of plotting the attacks with Usama bin Laden and others. He has been in jail since mid-August and faces arraignment Jan. 2 in Alexandria, Va.
Moussaoui signed up for lessons at the Oklahoma school in February and paid half the $5,000 cost in cash, something Airman admission director Brenda Keene said was not uncommon.
Moussaoui sports a trimmed black mustache and beard and a thick neck like a linebacker. He was not considered a good student and never earned his pilot's license.
Even after 57 hours of flight lessons between February and May, he still could not fly solo — something most students can do in a third of that time.
But while Moussaoui could be frustrating, he never gave the slightest hint he intended to harm anyone, Keene said Tuesday after learning he had just been indicted in the Sept. 11 attacks.
"To think I helped this guy come into this country, talked to him for five months, helping him with stuff and he tried to kill us," Keene said Tuesday.
"He sat right there in that chair," she said, pointing across her desk.
The sign-up rarely takes longer than 20 minutes, but with Moussaoui it lasted more than two hours because he asked so many questions, Keene said. Keene said she grew so irritated, she walked around her desk, jokingly grabbed him by the throat and said, "You're driving me crazy!"
"He said, 'I know I'm driving you crazy. I'll bug you all day long now, then I won't bug you anymore."'
Although he could be exasperating, Moussaoui was polite, Keene said, often calling her Miss Brenda. She said Moussaoui, who signed his e-mail correspondence with the pseudonym "Zuluman Tango Tango," never did anything that seemed suspicious.
After a few months at the school, he got a ride with a University of Oklahoma student to Minnesota, where he intended to train on Boeing flight simulators. But on Aug. 17, Moussaoui was detained there on immigration charges after he aroused suspicions by saying he wanted to learn how to fly jetliners but wasn't interested in knowing how to take off or land.
Less than a month later, while Moussaoui was still locked up, terrorists crashed hijacked jetliners into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
Attorney General John Ashcroft called the Tuesday indictment a "chronicle of evil." The charges include conspiring to murder, commit acts of terrorism and aircraft piracy and use weapons of mass destruction.
Ashcroft said Moussaoui was an active player in the Sept. 11 attacks. He underwent the same training as the terrorists on the hijacked planes, Ashcroft said, and pledged to kill Americans.
The indictment says that in 1998, Moussaoui was at an Al Qaeda camp in Afghanistan. Police said France's internal security service placed him on a 1999 watch list of those possibly affiliated with militant Islamic groups.
According to the indictment, Moussaoui flew from London to Oklahoma in February. He opened a bank account in Norman with $32,000 in cash.
In June, the indictment says, he bought flight deck videos for Boeing jetliners. Flight manuals for the Boeing 747 Model 400, a flight simulator and a computer disk containing information related to pesticide spraying were found among his possessions. Federal investigators have said Moussaoui has declined to cooperate.
Moussaoui's court-appointed attorney, Donald DuBoulay, said Tuesday he hadn't read the indictment and wouldn't comment.
Moussaoui, also known as Shaqil and Abu Khalid al Sahrawi, was born in Saint-Jean-de-Luz in southwestern France on May 30, 1968. His teachers described him as extroverted, happy and surrounded by friends. He finished high school and earned a technical degree in the town of Perpignan, France.
Moussaoui's brother, Abd Samad Moussaoui, said Moussaoui changed after he traveled to England and became involved with a radical form of Islam. His mother dismissed that, saying that when she last saw him in 1997, he didn't seem different, or particularly religious.
In an AP telephone interview from her home in the southern French town of Narbonne, his mother, Aicha Moussaoui, questioned why it took U.S. authorities so long to indict her son if they thought he was guilty. "If they'd had anything real against him, they would have done it right away, no?" she said.
She said her son claimed his innocence in a letter he sent from prison. "I believe him," she said.
After hearing that some of the charges carried the death penalty, she began to cry, then hung up the phone.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.