ALEXANDRIA, Va., May 4 (Reuters) Zacarias Moussaoui, the only person convicted in a U S court for the September 11 attacks, should go to prison for life rather than be executed for his role in the hijacking plot, a jury decided here.
Federal prosecutors had argued Moussaoui's failure to warn law enforcement officers who detained him about the upcoming attacks made him as guilty as if he had carried them out himself.
Not all members of the jury of nine men and three women, who last month found Moussaoui eligible for execution, agreed yesterday. The law requires a unanimous verdict for a sentence of death.
The 37-year-old French citizen of Moroccan descent, who was in jail on September 11, 2001, after raising suspicions at a flight school, will be formally sentenced today.
''America you lost!'' Moussaoui shouted as he left the courtroom. He clapped his hands and shouted, ''I won!'' The verdict in the complicated case marked a defeat for government prosecutors, who had asked jurors to return the death penalty against Moussaoui, an admitted al Qaeda member who expressed no remorse at trial for the September 11 victims.
Legal expert David Rossman, of Boston University law school, said the prosecution was hurt by evidence in the courtroom of shortcomings in the FBI's handling of the case.
''It's very easy to say the government lost in terms of public relations. ... People will be looking at the FBI without those rose-colored glasses.'' Perhaps more important, the case took on symbolic weight from the lingering trauma of Sept. 11 that the prosecution could not sustain.
''It was a mistake of the government to make Moussaoui the poster child for the 9/11 conspiracy to begin with,'' added Daniel Benjamin, a terrorism analyst and former member of the Clinton administration.
The verdict was reached after seven days of deliberations and was read by U S District Judge Leonie Brinkema at the courthouse in Alexandria, not far from the Pentagon, the site of one of the 2001 attacks.
Last year, Moussaoui pleaded guilty to six counts of conspiracy, three of which could have carried a sentence of death.
'EVIL VANQUISHED' At the White House, President George W. Bush hailed the sentencing of the man he said ''openly rejoiced'' at the deaths on September 11 and said that ''evil'' had been vanquished.
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