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Sensational 9/11 trial in U.S. coming to a close

Written by: Staff

ALEXANDRIA, Va., Mar 29 (Reuters) Lawyers for the U S government and Zacarias Moussaoui today wrap up a tumultuous and bizarre death penalty trial for the only person charged in the United States in the September 11 plot.

The lawyers and U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema met to work on instructions for the jury that must decide whether Moussaoui is executed. The panel of 12 jurors and five alternates returns in the afternoon for closing arguments and will begin deliberating his fate by the end of the day.

The final summations mark the end of proceedings that began March 6 and were delayed for a week after a government witness improperly contacted and coached key witnesses.

Moussaoui provided sensational testimony in declaring he was meant to fly a plane into the White House on September 11, something he had previously denied.

It was disclosed yesterday that in February he offered to testify against himself for the government in exchange for better jail conditions until he was executed.

Top al Qaeda officials in U S custody have disputed much of Moussaoui's account and said he had a ''problematic personality.'' Moussaoui, 37, pleaded guilty last year to all six conspiracy counts against him -- three of which carry the death penalty.

The trial has two phases. In this first phase, the jury must decide whether Moussaoui, a French citizen of Moroccan descent arrested in August 2001 after raising suspicions at a flight school, lied to the FBI shortly after his arrest about his knowledge of the hijacked airliner plot.

If the jury finds that Moussaoui lied, resulting in the death of at least one person on September 11, then another trial phase would be held to consider imposing the death penalty.

Moussaoui bolstered the government's argument against him when he testified -- at his own request against the advice of his court-appointed lawyers -- and said he had lied to the FBI in order to help ensure the hijacking plot occurred.

When Moussaoui pleaded guilty last year, he admitted to being a member of al Qaeda but denied involvement in the September 11 hijackings, which killed nearly 3,000 people. He said he was meant to be in a second wave of attacks.

But when he testified on Monday, Moussaoui said he was to have piloted a fifth plane into the White House and that he knew that the twin towers of New York's World Trade Center were supposed to be targets in the attacks.

He said he knew few other details but said he knew most of the 19 hijackers -- most by sight only -- who ended up carrying out the attacks.

During the trial, Moussaoui's lawyers presented evidence and testimony that contradicted his statements from detained top al Qaeda officials who planned the September 11 plot.

Reuters KD DB2212

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