Attorney General John Ashcroft told reporters that a Virginia grand jury had indicted Moussaoui, who has been held as a material witness since the Sept. 11 attacks. The attorney general read a list of charges at a press conference Tuesday — exactly three months since the hijacked plane crashed into the Pentagon and World Trade Center.
The indictment charges Moussaoui “with conspiring with Osama bin Laden and al-Qaida to murder thousands of innocent people in New York, Virginia and Pennsylvania on Sept. 11.”
Moussaoui was “an active participant” in the terrorist attacks, Ashcroft said. He called the 30-page indictment a “chronicle of evil” compiled over several years.
Moussaoui was indicted on six counts, four of which could carry the death penalty. The counts were conspiracy to commit acts of terrorism, to commit aircraft piracy, to destroy aircraft, to use weapons of mass destruction, murder and conspiracy to destroy property.
Ashcroft said Moussaoui is charged with “undergoing the same training, receiving the same funding and pledging the same commitment to kill Americans” as the terrorists on the hijacked planes.
The attorney general called the indictment “an important step in securing justice for the victims of Sept. 11.” The Justice Department will be making available a Web site and toll-free phone number “to follow the progress of this prosecution.”
Moussaoui will be tried in federal courts and not in a military tribunal. His arraignment is scheduled for January 2 in Virginia.
Zacarias Moussaoui was arrested for an immigration violation on August 17, after a Minnesota flight school reportedly told the FBI that Moussaoui wanted to learn to fly a jumbo jet, but didn’t care about landing.
U.S. officials have spoken of Moussaoui as an intended 20th member of the hijacking team. But FBI Director Robert Mueller this month told federal prosecutors that a computer owned by Moussaoui did not link him to the Sept. 11 attacks.
His computer did show that Moussaoui had gathered information about “dispersal of chemicals” and about crop-duster planes, Mueller said. The discovery prompted the Bush administration to temporarily ground crop-dusters as a precaution against a possible biochemical terrorist attack.
A life leading towards Islamic fundamentalism
Moussaoui was born in southwest France in 1968 to a Moroccan family. Zacarias began studying business in 1991 in Montpellier, but went to London in 1993.
During his seven years in London, he traveled to Pakistan, Turkey and Afghanistan, according to Moussaoui’s family and French investigators.
In the late 1990s, Moussaoui grew a beard, started to dress in traditional Pakistani clothes and began espousing his brand of militant Islam to others, according to CNN interviews with Moussaoui’s family.
In a letter Moussaoui wrote from jail to his mother in October he said he didn’t do anything, but had the “impression that I have already been condemned.”
His mother, who lives in southern France, told the Associated Press that she believes him.
“As a young boy, he was never a liar,” she said.