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March 27, 2006
Moussaoui: I Would Have Hit The White House

Zacarias Moussaoui stunned a courtroom today when he confessed, or rather proclaimed, that he intended on participating in a fifth hijacking on 9/11 and destroying the White House before his capture in August 2001. Disputing the intelligence given by 9/11 planner Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Moussaoui told the court that he had repeatedly lied to the FBI to protect the operational integrity of the 9/11 plot and to confuse American investigators afterward:

Zacarias Moussaoui testified in Federal District Court here today that he knew of Al Qaeda's plans to fly jetliners into the World Trade Center and that he was to have piloted an airliner into the White House on Sept. 11, 2001.

Taking the stand before the jury that will determine whether he is put to death or spends the rest of his life in prison, Mr. Moussaoui related in calm, measured language that he was to have been accompanied on his death-dive into the White House by Richard C. Reid, the so-called shoe bomber, among others. ...

Mr. Moussaoui, whose previous courtroom behavior has sometimes consisted of belligerent ravings, was calm in the early going today. But though he was unemotional, the question of "what might have been" arose almost inevitably from his appearance.

He readily admitted that he lied to investigators after his arrest in Minnesota on immigration charges a few weeks before the attacks because he did not want to plot to be uncovered. And asked by Mr. Spencer whether he eagerly awaited the attacks, he replied, "Yes, you can say that."

Mr. Moussaoui matter-of-factly admitted knowing 17 of the 19 Sept. 11 hijackers, having become acquainted with most of them in Afghanistan, where he said traveled often to confer with Al Qaeda's leaders.

If Moussaoui told the truth today, then we can speculate that Flight 93's target was Capitol Hill, the other major target in Washington DC. That makes some sense. Al-Qaeda would have wanted to decapitate the US government as well as its financial leadership, making five targets overall. The strike on both Capitol Hill and the White House would under ordinary circumstances accomplish that, along with the hit on the Pentagon.

However, the planners miscalculated in several respects. The plane that hit the Pentagon did not have enough force to destroy the building , or even the section it hit, thanks to a bungled approach that bounced off the freeway just across from the impact point and slowed the plane. George Bush wasn't at the White House that day, having gone to Florida on a mundane but well-reported tour touting his education policy. Congress was in session that day, but a number of representatives were outside of the building that early in the morning.

All of this hinges on whether Moussaoui told the truth today. We probably will never know, but it seems unlikely. He had just started his pilot training when his strange behavior and requests aroused suspicion. The other pilots had long before received the training they got for their mission. Most of the intelligence gleaned from other sources put Moussaoui in a less-important role of a standby, and Reid wound up on a very different kind of mission three months later, not keeping with the long prep times that AQ usually conducts.

I'm rather suspicious of the testimony today, and in the absence of corroboration, I'm inclined to chalk this up to a streak of egotistical, suicidal idiocy on Moussaoui's part. He clearly wants to die a martyr's death, and with the government case hitting some road bumps, he may have started to worry that a jury would just let him rot in a Supermax facility in the Midwest for the rest of his life. What better way to ensure one's 72 virgins than to claim a leading role in the world's worst terrorist attack? I think a 1,000-year sentence may sound like the correct solution instead.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at March 27, 2006 6:32 PM

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