ALEXANDRIA, United States (AFP) -Loved ones of September 11 victims gave heart-searing testimony for Al-Qaeda plotter Zacarias Moussaoui, telling jurors who will decide whether he is executed, how they had rejected vengeance and hate.
A woman who lost her son in the World Trade Center, then went to the Middle East to meet relatives of the pilot hijacker who killed him, said she didn’t want to get “caught in a whirlpool of frustration and sadness.”
A man whose father died in the World Trade Center inferno, after they reconciled after years of bad feeling, said he wouldn’t let suicide terrorists hijack his life.
The testimony, which left faces in the courtroom streaked with tears, was the latest stunning twist in a trial soaked in grief and horror, which has often turned legal logic on its head.
Defense lawyers dipped into the well of pain left by the 2001 attacks, in a bid to blunt the impact of harrowing prosecution testimony from other grief-stricken relatives and tapes and pictures of the horror of September 11.
Their move came six days after Moussaoui, whom some observers believe is bent on martyrdom, said public anguish of survivors and the bereaved was “disgusting” and he wished it could be September 11 every day.
“If I let myself succumb to the fear … that would lead to fear, and anger and hatred, not only planes were hijacked that day but my life would be added to that list of casualties,” said Antonio Aversano, from Troy, New York, who lost his father in the World Trade Center.
Christian minister Donald Bane, who lost his son Michael in the World Trade Center, was asked to describe his reaction.
“It was a mixture of rage, vengeful feelings … I was feeling a lot of rage at times,” he said, adding that he had thrown himself into enhancing understanding with the Islamic world, and supporting music, which his son loved.
“I think one of the things, I have a choice about, is keep music going, keep life going … (to get) people talking to each other, to solve their problems without killing each other. That is what I think our lives ought to be now.”
None of the witnesses, according to court rules, was allowed to comment on the kind of sentence Moussaoui should be given.
But their testimony for the defense was a clear sign that they preferred the alternative punishment of life in prison without parole, and not execution for Moussaoui, the only man tried in the United States over the attacks.
Marilynn Rosenthal, 75, who lost her son, Josh, vice-president of a financial company in the World Trade Center, told of how her family had faced the crisis.
“We all have a very strong feeling that we are not going to get caught up in a whirlpool of frustration and sadness,” she said.
“We want something good to come out of this for us … and for our country.”
Rosenthal is writing a book about the attacks, and traveled to the United Arab Emirates to seek out the family of Marwan Al-Shehhi, who piloted a hijacked jet into the twin towers in New York.
Defense lawyers had earlier called testimony to show young Moussaoui was lonely, broke, spiritually adrift and an outsider, and therefore easy prey for Islamic terror recruiters when he lived in London in the mid 1990s.
Dr. Paul Martin, a certified psychologist from Ohio, said the Al-Qaeda member had found a sense of belonging at the moderate Brixton Mosque in south London.
But while the mosque embraced him, he soon fell under the spell of fundamentalists who preyed on young Muslims outside its walls, Martin said.
“They trumped Brixton, they said, ‘look we’ve got the pure form of Islam, we are moving, we are acting’,” Martin said, quoting his assessment of radical Islamists’ views.
Martin’s testimony was followed by another attempt by the defense to prove Moussaoui suffers from paranoid schizophrenia and delusions with testimony from clinical psychiatrist Dr. Michael First.
The Frenchmen appeared to be enjoying the spectacle hugely, laughing and nodding his head, as First detailed what he said was Moussaoui’s primary delusion — the belief that President George W. Bush is going to set him free.
“Moussaoui fly over the cuckoo’s nest,” he shouted as he was led from court for a break, referring to the movie set in a mental institution starring Jack Nicholson.
Prosecutors are expected to introduce their own mental health experts who have concluded that Moussaoui is not mentally ill.
Judge Leonie Brinkema, meanwhile, told jurors they could expect to get the case Monday.
The jury has ruled Moussaoui eligible for execution, accepting prosecution arguments that his “lies” while jailed in Minnesota concealed plans for the September 11 attacks.
Now they must decide whether the sentence should be carried out.