Moussaoui Shocks From Witness Stand

generic Artist rendering shows Zacarias Moussaoui court gavel CBS/AP

Zacarias Moussaoui's defense lawyers didn't want him to testify at the federal trial that will determine if he serves life in prison or gets the death penalty. But Moussaoui took the stand anyway, confirming nearly everything the prosecution says about him, and more.

After initially denying any direct role in the 9/11 attacks, Moussaoui testified Monday that he and would-be shoe bomber Richard Reid were supposed to hijack a fifth airplane on Sept. 11, 2001, and fly it into the White House. Moussaoui's testimony on his own behalf riveted the courtroom as he disclosed details he had never revealed before, essentially making the government's case for them, CBS News correspondent Jim Stewart reports.

The testimony was in stark contrast to Moussaoui's previous statements, in which he said the White House attack was to come later if the United States refused to release a radical Egyptian sheik imprisoned on earlier terrorist convictions.

On Dec. 22, 2001, Reid was subdued by passengers when he attempted to detonate a bomb in his shoe aboard American Airlines Flight 63 from Paris to Miami. The plane was diverted to Boston, where it landed safely.

Moussaoui told the court he knew the World Trade Center attack was coming and he lied to investigators when arrested in August 2001 because he wanted it to happen.

"You lied because you wanted to conceal that you were a member of al Qaeda?" prosecutor Rob Spencer asked.

"That's correct," Moussaoui said.

Spencer: "You lied so the plan could go forward?"

Moussaoui: "That's correct."

The exchange could be key to the government's case that the attacks might have been averted if Moussaoui had been more cooperative following his arrest.

Moussaoui told the court he knew the attacks were to take place some time after August 2001 and bought a radio so he could hear them unfold. The news of the attacks was "glorious" he testified.

Specifically, he said he knew the World Trade Center was going to be attacked, but he asserted he was not involved in that part of the plot and didn't know the details.

And contrary to what his attorneys said in opening statements, Moussaoui admitted he did know at least 15 of the other 19 hijackers, including the top man Mohammed Atta, Stewart reports.

"I had knowledge that the Twin Towers would be hit," Moussaoui said. "I didn't know the details of this."

Jurors sat stone faced. Some family members quietly wept. A defense lawyer later told CBS News that the testimony amounted to a "public suicide." Analysts agreed.

"Moussaoui's lawyers now have to really portray him as a crank, a kook, someone who would say anything and do anything to get what he wants - which is to be executed," CBS News legal analyst Andrew Cohen said.

Sally Regenhard, whose firefighter son Christian died at the World Trade Center, said "at least there would have been a chance" to head off the attacks if Moussaoui had told investigators in August 2001 what she heard him admit in court Monday.

"I was convinced that this man was only a heartbeat away from taking the controls of a plane," she said.
  • Joel Roberts

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