ALEXANDRIA, Va. – Prosecutors in Zacarias Moussaoui's death penalty trial sought Tuesday to show his lies are standard operating procedure for Al Qaeda, presenting evidence that members of the terrorist group are carefully scripted to deceive when caught.
FBI agent Michael Anticev, testifying for a second day, offered the jury a primer on Al Qaeda cover stories and the organization's techniques of deception when cell members are questioned.
Defense attorney Edward MacMahon got Anticev to acknowledge on cross-examination that the FBI was aware years before Sept. 11 that Al Qaeda had plans to fly airplanes into prominent buildings.
Moussaoui's lawyers are portraying him as a pathetic loner who dreamed of becoming a terrorist but was shut out of Sept. 11 planning and considered by one Al Qaeda leader a "cuckoo in the head."
The defense also wants to show the government knew far more about brewing Al Qaeda plots than Moussaoui did, and in that vein pressed Anticev on what the FBI was doing to follow up on warning signals before 9/11.
Anticev at first asserted, "I don't think anybody was looking at using aircraft as weapons," but acknowledged under questioning that the FBI had been aware before 9/11 of Al Qaeda plans to fly airliners into the Eiffel Tower and into a cathedral in Strasbourg, France.
He said he also knew that an Al Qaeda operative arrested in the Philippines in 1995 had said they had planned to fly a plane into CIA headquarters, but Anticev said he personally did not hear that until after 9/11.
Moussaoui's mother, Aicha, sat three rows behind her son in the courtroom; he glanced at her when she arrived but ignored her thereafter. She said later he was angry with her for speaking to his court-appointed lawyers, whom he has disavowed.
When leaving the courtroom for a recess, Moussaoui declared, "God curse America" and his lawyers, and "God bless Usama bin Laden."
Anticev read excerpts from an Al Qaeda training manual that included instructions on coded communications and how to develop a cover story if cell members are detained.
The manual says members should be prepared to answer questions about how they got their travel money, whether they belong to religious organizations and more.
When Moussaoui was arrested in the month before the attacks, he told the FBI his flight-training was merely an "ego-boosting thing."
The government argues Moussaoui should be put to death rather than imprisoned for life because he told lies that prevented authorities from foiling attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people.
As he opened his cross-examination, MacMahon sought to show that the FBI knew more than a decade ago that Usama bin Laden was sending trainees to U.S. flight schools to learn to be pilots, and at least one went to the same Oklahoma school where Moussaoui trained.
For Moussaoui, who readily acknowledges his allegiance to bin Laden and Al Qaeda, Anticev's testimony seemed to provide a trip down memory lane. Prosecutor David Raskin questioned Anticev about the structure of bin Laden's Al Qaeda organization.
Moussaoui smiled Monday when prosecutors played a 1998 ABC television interview of bin Laden as part of Anticev's testimony. He smiled again after the jury was shown portions of an al-Qaida training tape that showed the bombing of the USS Cole in a Yemeni port in 2000.
Anticev's testimony touched on the some of the names and faces that will be a part of Moussaoui's death-penalty trial over the next one to three months, including Sept. 11 attack mastermind, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed.
Moussaoui pleaded guilty in April to conspiring with Al Qaeda to hijack planes and commit other crimes. The trial will simply determine Moussaoui's punishment, and only two options are available: death or life in prison.
To obtain the death penalty, prosecutors must first prove a direct link between Moussaoui and the Sept. 11 attacks. Moussaoui denies any connection to 9/11 and says he was training for a possible future attack.
During opening statements, prosecutor Rob Spencer maintained that if Moussaoui had told the truth about his plans and his terrorist links when he was arrested in August 2001, the FBI and other agencies would have been able to unravel the Al Qaeda threat and thwarted the Sept. 11 attacks.
"Had Mr. Moussaoui just told the truth, it would all have been different," said Spencer.
MacMahon scoffed at the notion, saying Moussaoui's arrest set off numerous red flags to the FBI bureau in Minneapolis that arrested him, but FBI headquarters simply chose to ignore the warnings.
"The government expects you to believe Moussaoui held all the clues to finding these men," MacMahon told the jury. "You will see right through it."