3/20/2006

FBI agent warned of possible hijacking before September 11

ALEXANDRIA, United States (AFP) - An FBI agent testified that he warned his bosses about Zacarias Moussaoui 70 times before the September 11 attacks, and raised fears he planned to hijack an airliner. Agent Harry Samit took the witness stand at the death penalty trial of the confessed Al-Qaeda plotter, as it resumed with dramatic testimony after a week in peril of being thrown out by a judge over a witness-coaching scandal.

Samit, who arrested Moussaoui, also admitted under cross-examination that he accused his superiors of "criminal negligence" and "careerism" in a US government inquiry into their failure to act upon his warnings. The FBI agent was shown a memo he sent to FBI headquarters in Washington on August 18, 2001, parts of which were sent across the federal government, in which he referred to Moussaoui 70 times.

"You needed people in Washington to help you out?" Defense Counsel Edward MacMahon asked Samit.

"They didn't do that, did they?"

Samit answered: "No."

In the document, Samit warned the 37-year-old Frenchman was learning how to steer a 747-400 airliner, had a portable GPS navigation system, was an Islamic fundamentalist who approved of martyrdom, and was armed with small knives and learning martial arts.

Moussaoui is the only man tried in the United States in connection with the September 11 attacks, which killed nearly 3,000 people.

Prosecutors want to prove he deserves death, because his "lies" to investigators allowed the suicide hijackers time to carry out the strikes on New York and Washington.

Defense lawyers say the government knew far more than Moussaoui about the looming threat, and failed to act to stop it.

If he is not sentenced to death, Moussaoui, in jail on September 11, 2001, he will spend the rest of his life in prison, after confessing in April last year to conspiring to fly airliners into prominent US buildings.

He also said Moussaoui seemed to be in a hurry to finish his flight training on a jumbo jet simulator in Minnesota when he was arrested.

"You wanted the people in Washington to know that because you were concerned that Moussaoui was going to try to hijack a plane right?" defense lawyer Edward MacMahon asked Samit.

"Yes sir," the agent replied.

Samit also said he pleaded with his supervisors to warn the US
Secret Service, which protects the president, after learning Moussaoui had planned trips to New York and to look at the White House in Washington.

That revelation was especially alarming, because he discovered Moussaoui had told his flight simulator instructor to show him how to complete a flight between London Airport, and New York.

"If he seized an airliner flying from Heathrow to New York City, it would have enough fuel onboard to reach D.C.," he said he told a supervisor in Washington -- but got no word that the warning was ever passed on.

Samit also said superiors in FBI anti-terrorism units in Washington had stopped him from applying for a criminal search warrant or to a special intelligence court, so he could search Moussaoui's belongings.

MacMahon, who hopes to sow reasonable doubt among jurors that Moussaoui's failure to talk directly allowed the September 11 to go ahead, got Samit to agree such obstruction was a "bureaucratic bind" frustrating his investigation.

Samit finally got a criminal warrant on September 11, 2001 hours after the lethal attacks.

Procedural barriers known as "The Wall" which separated criminal and intelligence investigations before the September 11 attacks, which blocked Samit, have since been removed.

The trial resumed Monday after a week-long break, while Judge Leonie Brinkema probed a witness coaching drama.

Prosecution lawyers fought to save their case after Brinkema ruled out witnesses tainted by attorney Carla Martin and aviation security evidence which made up half their case.

She relented on Friday, allowing prosecutors to seek new, uncontaminated witnesses.

Brinkema did not discuss reasons for the delay with the jury.

FBI agent warned of possible hijacking before September 11 - Yahoo! News

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