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'I Am A Member Of Al Qaeda'

Zacarias Moussaoui, the only person charged as a Sept. 11 conspirator, attempted to plead guilty Thursday to new federal charges that could bring him the death penalty. But the judge — in a rare bench ruling — insisted he take a week to think about it.

"I am a member of al Qaeda" pledged to Osama bin Laden, Moussaoui told U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema, who moments earlier had entered an innocent plea on his behalf to a third indictment. Shortly after that, Moussaoui tried to plead guilty.

CBS News Correspondent Jim Stewart reports Moussaoui may be crazy, but he's not stupid. He implied he would tell the government everything he knows about the Sept. 11 attacks, along with another conspiracy if the government agrees not to execute him.

It began with Moussaoui offering the judge what he called a "pure ... affirmative plea" to the terrorist charges against him.

"You must plead guilty or not guilty," Brinkema said. Sit down, she ordered.

And then, he dropped his bombshell. "I plead guilty," Moussaoui said. "This will ensure to save my life."

The terrorist case is "much more complicated than what the government is saying," he continued.

"I have information to give about an existing conspiracy … and ongoing conspiracy."

Prosecutors could only watch as Moussaoui went on. As for Sept. 11, he said, "I know exactly who (did) it, when it was decided, who was in it."

Brinkema insisted that Moussaoui think about his decision for a week. She scheduled a hearing for next Thursday.

"I don't need," Moussaoui said in response. "I've been thinking about it for months."

Moussaoui said he wanted to fight the government's attempt to have him executed. The penalty phase normally would come after a guilty plea or conviction in a trial.

The arraignment had been scheduled after the government on Tuesday obtained a third indictment against Moussaoui following a new Supreme Court ruling on the death penalty. The new indictment added allegations that would enable the government to seek the death penalty.

What happens now? CBS Legal Analyst Andrew Cohen says "Either the judge will take Moussaoui at his word and allow him to enter a guilty plea next week, in which case the only issue left will be sentencing; or the judge will require him to undergo more evaluation by psychiatrists, in which case the clock will stop on the trial schedule. Either way, his September trial now is very unlikely.

"This is good news and bad news for the government," Cohen continues. "The good news is that Moussaoui essentially admitted to the crimes in court. The bad news is he did it in a way that a mentally competent person typically wouldn't do, which raises a red flag about whether a future plea will be accepted by the courts."

Moussaoui is the only individual charged in connection with the attacks. The original indictment in December accused him of plotting with the 19 hijackers and mimicking their conduct, including enrollment in flight schools. While government officials believe he was planning to be the 20th hijacker, Moussaoui was in custody on Sept. 11 on immigration violations.

Moussaoui went back to court Thursday on a third indictment. Charges were initially filed against him in December. In June, prosecutors dropped references to Moussaoui's interest in crop-dusting aircraft.

Last December, Moussaoui told Brinkema he had no plea and the judge entered a plea of innocent.

After the June revision in the indictment, Moussaoui tried to plead "no contest," but Brinkema again entered an innocent plea after explaining the term was the equivalent of pleading guilty.

Moussaoui, who is acting as his own lawyer, sat alone in the middle of three seats at the defense table. And when he stood to speak at the lecturn, facing the judge, two marshals stood directly in back of him and two others stood just a few feet away.

After entering the innocent plea on his behalf, Brinkema asked Moussaoui if he wanted her to set a new trial date to give him more time to prepare. Jury selection now is set to begin for Sept. 30.

Moussaoui said he wanted time to think about it, and the judge suggested that he should consult with court-appointed lawyers who remain in the case despite the judge's decision to let him represent himself.

"I don't have to consult with people who want to undermine my defense," said Moussaoui, who has accused the court-appointed lawyers of seeking to have him executed.

He told the judge, "Stop this nonsense game you are playing here. I don't have to take advice from you regarding the way I defend myself."

When the judge started to tell Moussaoui, "All right," he told her in a mocking tone, "Everything is all right. This is not justice."

When she then told him to sit down, he mockingly said, "Yes, yes have a seat."

Acting as his own lawyer, Moussaoui has flooded the court lately with motions that make the judge wonder about his sanity. In some he's asked to address congress and a grand jury. In others he's talked about Deep Throat and the O.J. Simpson trial.

According to Cohen, "the question that has to be answered by the judge is: Is this guy competent to stand trial? Is he competent to make these sorts of decisions?"

For the record, the Justice Department had no comment on today's events, but privately they were elated. They just hope he doesn't change his mind, because this may be the best chance they have of figuring out who called the shots on Sept. 11.

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