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Life in US prison for 9/11 conspirator Moussaoui

Written by: Staff
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ALEXANDRIA, May 4 (Reuters) Zacarias Moussaoui, the only person convicted in a US 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.

But not all members of the jury of nine men and three women, who last month found Moussaoui eligible for the death penalty, agreed.

The law requires a unanimous verdict.

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 after hearing the verdict. 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.

''It was a mistake of the government to make Moussaoui the poster child for the 9/11 conspiracy to begin with,'' said 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 US District Judge Leonie Brinkema at the courthouse in Alexandria, Virginia, 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.

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 ''evil'' had been vanquished.

''The end of this trial represents the end of this case, but not an end to the fight against terror,'' Bush said. ''...And we can be confident. Our cause is right, and the outcome is certain: Justice will be served. Evil will not have the final say.'' Family members of victims, some of whom sat in the courtroom as the verdict was read, said they were pleased with the sentence.

''He will be in jail for the rest of his life, which is exactly what this man deserves,'' said Carie Lemack, whose mother died on one of the airplanes that was crashed into New York's World Trade Center.

AL QAEDA 'WANNABE' ''He's an al Qaeda wannabe and he does not deserve any credit for 9/11 because he was not part of it, and I am so glad the jury recognized that.'' Moussaoui sat praying silently as Brinkema read the verdict. He appeared to relax after she said the jurors did not unanimously agree that a sentence of death should be imposed.

The jury did not find that Moussaoui's actions resulted in the deaths of around 3,000 people on September. 11 -- a central part of the government's demand for the death penalty.

Three of the 12 jurors found that Moussaoui's role in the 9/11 operation, if any, was minor, Brinkema said.

''Three jurors found the defendant had limited knowledge of the 9/11 attack plans,'' she said, reading from the lengthy verdict form.

None of the jurors found that Moussaoui's execution might create a martyr for radical Muslim fundamentalists and al Qaeda in particular.

Anti-death penalty activists said the case showed U.S.

juries were less willing to impose capital punishment than in the past, even in a case of such wrenching emotion. They said the number of death penalties imposed by juries had fallen dramatically since the late 1990s and continued to drop.

Moussaoui was arrested three weeks before the Sept. 11 attacks, in which hijackers rammed commercial airliners into buildings in New York and outside Washington. Another plane went down in a Pennsylvania field.

During testimony in the sentencing trial, Moussaoui said he was meant to pilot a fifth airplane into the White House as part of the plot -- a contradiction of his earlier claims that he was meant to be part of a second wave of attacks.

REUTERS DKS RK0505

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