U.S. to seek execution of terror suspect

Frenchman '20th hijacker' in Sept. 11 attacks, allege government officials


WASHINGTON - Federal prosecutors in Virginia and New York are seeking the death penalty for Zacarias Moussaoui, identified by law enforcement officials as the '20th hijacker' in the Sept. 11 attacks, government officials said yesterday.

The recommendation, expected to be announced in court next week, comes as prosecutors are offering some of the first details of trial preparations, including plans to seek testimony from many victims' relatives in urging a jury to execute Moussaoui.

Officials declined to say whether the prosecutors had received final approval from the Justice Department to pursue the death penalty. But they said the approval was all but certain given Attorney General John Ashcroft's strong support of capital punishment and his statement last year that Moussaoui "engaged in the same preparation for murder' as the 19 hijackers.

The case is scheduled for trial this fall in Alexandria, Va., outside Washington. Government officials said the written request to the Justice Department to seek the death penalty was signed by Paul J. McNulty, U.S. attorney in Alexandria, and by James B. Comey, U.S. attorney in Manhattan. Prosecutors and investigators from the of fices have worked closely on the case.

Moussaoui, 33, who is French of Moroccan descent, is charged with conspiring in the attacks, although no detailed evidence linking him to the hijackers has been made public. Moussaoui was in prison Sept. 11; he had been arrested in Minnesota in August on visa violations after raising the suspicions of a flight school where he was training. Four of the six counts against Moussaoui carry a maximum sentence of death.

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