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‘I enter no plea,’ says Moussaoui

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ALEXANDRIA, Va. — Zacarias Moussaoui, the first person indicted in the Sept. 11 attacks, invoked the name of Allah and declared to a court Wednesday "I do not have anything to plead." A judge entered a not guilty plea on his behalf.

Wearing a dark green jumpsuit with the word "prisoner" on the back, the bearded, balding Moussaoui appeared in a courthouse a few miles from where a jetliner crashed into the Pentagon to face charges he conspired to murder thousands.

"In the name of Allah, I do not have anything to plead. I enter no plea. Thank you very much," Moussaoui told U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema.

Brinkema said she took that to mean he was pleading innocent to the charges, some of which carry the death penalty. Moussaoui stood silent, and the plea was entered into the record.

Moussaoui's lawyers had said in advance their client would plead not guilty.

Brinkema set a trial date of Oct. 14, with jury selection to begin Sept. 30. She rejected defense arguments that the date would be too close to the one-year anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks and the vast amount of publicity that could be expected at that time.

Brinkema said she was confident that both sides could find an excellent jury in northern Virginia even though the courthouse is just a few miles from where one of the jetliners crashed into the Pentagon Sept. 11.

Defense lawyer Gerald Zerkin told Brinkema that "the need to be further away from Sept. 11 is obvious."

But Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert Spencer said publicity about the attacks "is going to have to be dealt with by the court no matter when" the trial begins.

Zerkin said the three defense attorneys — two of whom are public defenders appointed by the court — are facing a vast indictment that is international in scope and lists events in several European countries. He said the defense team will need security clearances, interpreters for Arabic documents and to bone up on the history of bin Laden's al-Qaida network and the principles of Islam.

"We simply cannot prepare a case in that amount of time," Zerkin argued in pressing unsuccessfully for a trial in early 2003.

Brinkema chose the government's suggested trial date, saying publicity from the one-year anniversary will have waned by mid-October. "I think the date suggested by the government does clear that (Sept. 11 anniversary) adequately," she said.

Federal marshals brought Moussaoui to the courthouse nearly four hours before the scheduled arraignment.

At least a dozen U.S. marshals were in the same courtroom on Dec. 19 when Moussaoui, who had just been transferred from detention in New York, appeared before a federal magistrate to hear the charges against him. Security personnel also ringed the federal court building.

Four charges in the six-count indictment could result in Moussaoui's execution, if he were convicted. Brinkema set a March 29 deadline for prosecutors to decide whether they would seek the death penalty.

Moussaoui's mother, Aicha el-Wafi, came to the United States from France last week and said her son told her he could prove his innocence. She did not appear in the courtroom Wednesday

The defendant, 33, is a French citizen of Moroccan descent who received a master's degree in England.

Although Moussaoui has been in federal custody on immigration charges since August, when he aroused suspicions at a Minnesota flight school, the indictment says he conspired with the Sept. 11 hijackers to kill and maim victims in the United States. While accusing him of links to Osama bin Laden's terrorist network, the indictment does not explain his role in the terror attacks.

Nonetheless, Attorney General John Ashcroft called Moussaoui an active participant with the 19 hijackers who crashed four jetliners in New York, Washington and western Pennsylvania, killing more than 3,000 people.

The indictment accuses Moussaoui of pursuing some of the same activities as the hijackers by taking flight training in the United States, inquiring about crop dusting and purchasing flight deck training videos.

The indictment also said Moussaoui received money in July and August from Ramzi Bin al-Shibh, an alleged member of a German terrorist cell who was a roommate of Mohammed Atta, the suspected ringleader in the attacks. The FBI believes Bin al-Shibh may have been planning to be the 20th hijacker.