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Moussaoui Made Crop-Dusting Inquiries

Barely two weeks before his arrest, accused Sept. 11 plotter Zacarias Moussaoui inquired about the University of Minnesota's crop-dusting program, according to the St. Paul Pioneer Press.

The newspaper reported Friday that Moussaoui e-mailed the university's Crookston campus on July 31, 2001, seeking information on a "short course you offer to become a crop duster (6 month, 1 years max.)."

Moussaoui made a fleeting reference to the e-mail in a court filing late last month in Alexandria, Va., where he is representing himself against charges he conspired with Osama bin Laden and others to plot the attacks.

Moussaoui, who faces the death penalty, has said he is a loyal member of al Qaeda but denies a role in the Sept. 11 attacks.

In the e-mail, Moussaoui said he was in the United States working toward a commercial pilot's license and that he hoped someday to start a crop-dusting business in Morocco or France. His message also asked for advice on setting up such a business, the Pioneer Press reported.

"I am interested to know what type of aircraft, material, equipment, something in detail, a kind of business plan," he wrote.

Larry Leake, director of the university's agricultural aviation program, said he didn't pay much attention to the note. The writer, who identified himself only as "Zacarias," was looking for a much shorter course than the university's two- and four-year programs.

"We didn't have what he was looking for," Leake told the newspaper, "so I just sort of disregarded it."

Authorities have said crop-dusting information was found on Moussaoui's computer after his August arrest. Officials later twice grounded all crop-dusting planes following the attacks.

Immediately after Sept. 11, federal agents talked to Leake as part of their nationwide canvassing of flight schools. The e-mail never came up, because Leake said he didn't know whom it was from until agents discovered Leake's name in a notebook or computer file of Moussaoui's. When agents contacted Leake a second time, he provided a copy of the e-mail.

The Pioneer Press reported that Moussaoui used the same e-mail account and screen name he used when corresponding with Airman Flight School in Norman, Okla., in the fall of 2000. He arrived there in February 2001 and logged nearly 60 hours of flight time but never flew solo and left after two months without earning a license.

Moussaoui arrived in Minnesota about Aug. 12 to train on a 747-400 jet simulator owned by Northwest Airlines and administered by Pan Am International Flight Academy in Eagan.

Flight school officials have said Moussaoui was unqualified for the training he requested. They described him as insistent on learning how to steer a jetliner in the air rather than how to take off and land. His behavior prompted a school official to contact the FBI and Moussaoui was taken into custody Aug. 15, before logging any simulator time.

He was booked into the Sherburne County Jail on an immigration charge two days later and stayed there until Sept. 14, when federal authorities transferred him to a New York City detention center.

Meanwhile, Moussaoui's court-appointed team of "standby" defense lawyers is poring through massive amounts of documents.

The lawyers asked U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema on Thursday for a two-month postponement of the Sept. 30 trial date, citing the volume.

The documents, turned over by the government, include:

  • 1,189 computer disks, including 82 with no index and 520 with generic descriptions such as "Discovery From Afghanistan." Many have Arabic documents with no translations.
  • 1,262 audiocassettes.
  • 526 videotapes.
  • 202 computer hard drives.
  • About 400 classified audiotapes.
  • Approximately 170 CD-ROMs.
  • 755 pages of classified documents.

    The defense team has been told by the judge to prepare for trial in case she revokes her approval for Moussaoui to represent himself.

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