ALEXANDRIA, Va. – A prosecutor told Zacarias Moussaoui, the first man indicted in the Sept. 11 attacks, that the government is shaping a case against him for which ``the maximum penalty is death.'' As Moussaoui appeared in court, new Justice Department figures showed the number of people detained since the hijackings has begun to decline.
At least a dozen U.S. marshals were in the courtroom Wednesday when Moussaoui appeared before a federal magistrate wearing a brown T-shirt and khaki pants. Magistrate Thomas Jones summarized the six conspiracy counts in the pretrial proceeding and then asked Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert Spencer to advise Moussaoui of the penalties if convicted.
``Your honor, on counts one, two, three and four, the maximum penalty is death,'' Spencer responded in a firm voice. The balding, bearded Moussaoui sat facing the magistrate and showed no emotion.
Hours after the hearing, the Justice Department said more than 80 people detained after the attacks have been released or deported because they had no links to terrorism.
The department said 460 people held on immigration charges are being investigated for possible terrorist connections, down from 548 held as of late last month. Those without terrorist connections were freed on bond or sent out of the country, the department said in a statement.
Moussaoui was neither handcuffed nor shacked when brought into the courtroom. He had those restraints last week during a New York hearing on his transfer to Virginia.
Gerald Zerkin, a federal public defender who is one of three lawyers representing Moussaoui, said, ``We are not in a position to request bail at this time.'' The defendant had been flown to Virginia by U.S. Marshals only hours before the hearing.
Moussaoui, 33, is charged with conspiring to commit acts of terrorism, aircraft piracy, destruction of aircraft, use of weapons of mass destruction, murder of U.S. employees and destruction of U.S. property. In addition to the four counts that could result in the death penalty, two others carry a maximum of life imprisonment.
A French citizen of Moroccan descent, Moussaoui was not asked how he pleaded to the charges. That stage of the case is set for his Jan. 2 arraignment.
The case has been assigned to U.S. District Judge Leonie M. Brinkema, nominated in 1993 by former President Clinton.
Though he was in custody on Sept. 11 on an immigration charge, authorities allege that Moussaoui was in on the plot to hijack and crash airliners and followed many of the same patterns as the 19 hijackers, all of whom were named as unindicted coconspirators along with bin Laden.
Like the hijackers, Moussaoui sought flight training, made inquiries about crop dusting, and had connections to the same Hamburg, Germany, terrorist cell frequented by hijacking ringleader Mohamed Atta.
The indictment also linked Moussaoui to Ramzi Binalshibh, an alleged member of the German cell who was a roommate of Atta's. The FBI believes Binalshibh was meant to be the 20th hijacker.