Al-Qaida conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui testified Monday that he and would-be shoe bomber Richard Reid were supposed to hijack a fifth airplane and fly it into the White House as part of the attack that unfolded Sept. 11, 2001.
Moussaoui's testimony on his own behalf stunned the courtroom. His account was in stark contrast to his previous statements in which he said the White House attack was to come later if the United States refused to release a radical Egyptian sheik imprisoned on earlier terrorist convictions.
On Dec. 22, 2001, Reid was subdued by passengers when he attempted to detonate a bomb in his shoe aboard American Airlines Flight 63 from Paris to Miami. There were 197 people on board. The plane was diverted to Boston, where it landed safely.
Moussaoui, a French citizen, y told the court he knew the World Trade Center attack was coming and that he lied to investigators when arrested in August 2001 because he wanted it to happen.
"You lied because you wanted to conceal that you were a member of al-Qaida?" prosecutor Rob Spencer asked.
"That's correct," Moussaoui said.
Spencer: "You lied so the plan could go forward?"
Moussaoui: "That's correct."
The exchange was key to the U.S. government's case that the attacks might have been averted if Moussaoui had been more cooperative following his arrest.
Moussaoui told the court he knew the attacks were coming some time after August 2001 and bought a radio so he could hear them unfold.
Specifically, he said he knew the World Trade Center was going to be attacked, but asserted he was not part of that plot and didn't know the details.
Nineteen men pulled off the Sept. 11 attacks on New York in Washington in the worst act of terrorism ever on U.S. soil.
"I had knowledge that the Twin Towers would be hit," Moussaoui said. "I didn't know the details of this."
Asked by his lawyer why he signed his guilty plea in April as "the 20th hijacker," Moussaoui replied: "Because everybody used to refer to me as the 20th hijacker and it was a bit of fun."
Before Moussaoui took the stand, his lawyers made a last attempt to stop him from testifying, but failed. Defense attorney Gerald Zerkin argued that his client would not be a competent witness because he has contempt for the court, only recognizes Islamic law and therefore "the affirmation he undertakes would be meaningless."
Moussaoui at first denied he was to have been a fifth hijack pilot but under cross examination spoke of the plan to attack the White House. He said Reid was the only person he knew for sure would have been on that mission, but others were discussed, reports AP.
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