ALEXANDRIA, Va. – Two more high-ranking Al Qaeda operatives cast doubt on whether Zacarias Moussaoui was involved in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, with one portraying him as a misfit who refused to follow orders, in testimony Tuesday at his death penalty trial.
The testimony of both was read to the jury, in one case because the witness is a captive whom the U.S. government did not want to appear in court.
One terrorist, identified as Sayf al-Adl, a senior member of Al Qaeda's military committee, stated sometime between Sept. 1, 2001, and late July 2004, that Moussaoui was "a confirmed jihadist but was absolutely not going to take part in the Sept. 11, 2001, mission." The 9/11 Commission reported that the U.S. had recovered from a safehouse in Pakistan a letter written by al-Adl describing the various candidates considered for the Sept. 11 attacks.
The other — Waleed bin Attash, often known simply as Khallad — is considered the mastermind of the 2000 suicide attack on the USS Cole and an early planner of the Sept. 11, 2001, plot. He said he knew of no part that Moussaoui was to have played in the 9/11 attacks. Khallad was captured in April 2003.
Their testimony backs up the claims of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, chief organizer of the 9/11 attacks. He said in testimony read to the jury Monday that Moussaoui had nothing to do with the plot but was to have been used for a second wave of attacks distinct from Sept. 11.
Moussaoui said for the first time Monday that he was supposed to pilot a fifth plane in the 9/11 plot and attack the White House. He had previously denied a role in 9/11 and claimed to be part of a different plot.
The defense introduced an array of written testimony from these captives that was read to the jurors in an effort to undercut Moussaoui's dramatic testimony Monday that he was to hijack a fifth plane on Sept. 11 and fly it into the White House. His lawyers were trying to undo damage he might have done to himself when he testified against their wishes.
Khallad portrayed Moussaoui as something of a loose cannon during a trip to Malaysia in 2000, where he met members of a radical group affiliated with Al Qaeda. Khallad said Moussaoui breached security measures and Al Qaeda protocol.
For example, he called Khallad daily, despite instructions to call only in an emergency, to the point where Khallad turned his cell phone off.
Another witness, Mustafa Ahmed al-Hawsawi, who served as a paymaster and facilitator for the Sept. 11 operation from his post in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, said he had seen Moussaoui at an Al Qaeda guesthouse in Kandahar, Afghanistan, in the first half of 2001, but was never introduced to him or conducted operations with him.
Al-Hawsawi said he provided money and tickets to four of the Sept. 11 hijackers and to a fifth man, identified as Muhammed al-Qahtani, who was to be a hijacker but was denied entry to the United States before Sept. 11 in Orlando, Fla.
In the written statement, Al-Hawsawi quoted Khalid Shaikh Mohammed as describing al-Qahtani as the last hijacker for the mission who would "complete the group."
Thus it appeared al-Qahtani was the so-called missing 20th hijacker of Sept. 11, a role the government initially thought Moussaoui was to have played before his arrest a month earlier.
Also Tuesday, defense attorney Alan Yamamoto read a summary of three Federal Aviation Administration intelligence reports on hijacking from the late 1990s and 2000, reports that concluded a hijacked airliner could be flown into a building or national landmark in the U.S. However, this was "viewed as an option of last resort."
The FAA had reports of questionable reliability that Usama bin Laden had discussed suicide hijackings and had discussed hijacking a U.S. air carrier in an effort to free imprisoned Egyptian cleric Omar Abdel Rahman.
But the reports concluded that crashing a jetliner into a building appeared to be an unlikely option for the goal of winning Rahman's release because it offered no time to negotiate.
The FAA was more concerned that bin Laden might try to hijack a U.S. carrier and take the American passengers as hostages to Afghanistan to deter a U.S. military strike there.
Last year, when he pleaded guilty, Moussaoui had said his plot to hijack a 747 and fly it into the White House was if the U.S. refused to release Rahman.
Moussaoui's testimony Monday that he was part of the 9/11 plot along with would-be shoe-bomber Richard Reid flew in the face of his previous denials that he had any role in the Sept. 11 attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people.
Moussaoui is the only person in this country charged in the Sept. 11 attacks, during which hijackers crashed passenger jetliners into New York's World Trade Center, the Pentagon and a field in Pennsylvania. Mohammed is in custody abroad in undisclosed circumstances, having been interrogated but not yet charged.
Even prosecutors are not alleging a direct role for Moussaoui in the 9/11 plot. Instead, they argue that Moussaoui allowed the Sept. 11 plot to go forward by lying about his al-Qaida membership and his true plans when federal agents arrested him in August 2001.
Moussaoui's defense attorneys, in their opening arguments, suggested Moussaoui may prefer execution, which he would see as martyrdom, to life in prison. He isn't cooperating with his court-appointed attorneys.
In his testimony, Mohammed said the plane that crashed in a Pennsylvania field on Sept. 11 after passengers rebelled against the hijackers was to have targeted the U.S. Capitol. There has been ongoing debate about whether the plane was headed for the Capitol or the White House.
Because Moussaoui has already pleaded, the jury must only determine his sentence: death or life in prison. To obtain the death penalty, prosecutors must prove that Moussaoui's actions resulted in at least one death on Sept. 11.