Zacarias Moussaoui is the so-called twentieth hijacker. Some have called him a “fantasist.” His own attorneys described him as paranoid and delusional. Last year, however, Moussaoui pleaded guilty to conspiracy changes in connection with the 9/11 attacks, and now a jury is deciding whether or not he deserves the death penalty.
By contrast to Moussaoui, Riduan bin Isamudin, better known as “Hambali,” is the real thing – a master terrorist capable not only of organizing deadly operations but also of providing the manpower and means to carry out the attacks. He was the operations chief for the notorious South East Asian terrorist group Jemaah Islamiah, which is blamed for a number of attacks, including the notorious Bali bombing in 2002 that killed 202 people. Hambali was captured in Ayutthaya, Thailand, in August 2003, in a joint CIA-Thai operation, while planning an attack on the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation summit (which was scheduled to be held in Bangkok in October 2003, with President Bush in attendance).
When he was interrogated, according to documents submitted in the Moussaoui trial, Hambali described Moussaoui as “very troubled, not right in the head,” and as “having a bad character.” Hambali also told his captors that “Moussaoui managed to annoy everyone he came in contact with.” He went on to say that Moussaoui “constantly complained” about everything and was always proposing “ridiculous” ideas for terrorist operations, such as “kidnapping local Chinese businessmen and holding them for ransom, and robbing motorists.”
At one point, the documents show, Moussaoui told Hambali that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed wanted him [Moussaoui] to purchase 40 tons of ammonium nitrate for an undisclosed operation. Hambali said he was taken aback at the huge amount of explosive materials mentioned and said that he did not “have enough money to purchase that much.” (By way of comparison, the devastating blast that destroyed the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, and damaged 312 other structures, required only 4,800 pounds of ammonium nitrate and fuel oil – i.e., a little more than two tons.)
Hambali ultimately authorized Moussaoui to buy four tons of explosives, at a cost of $1,580 (8,000 Malaysian Ringets). But nothing ever happened, and when Moussaoui left Malaysia he “stuck” his hosts with the tab. Later, when Hambali asked Khalid Sheikh Mohammed about the operation, the latter said he knew nothing about it and had “never told Moussaoui to buy ammonium nitrate, let alone 40 tons of it.” In the end, Hambali said, he was delighted to see Moussaoui leave Malaysia (to attend flight school), and gladly paid for his plane ticket so that he would “become someone else’s problem.” Hambali also told interrogators that Sheikh Mohammed agreed with him that “there was something wrong with Moussaoui.”
Moussaoui is not “Carlos the Jackal” or even close to it. He is a not-ready-for-prime-time buffoon consumed by hatred for the United States, a gloating clown who told the court that he wished more Americans had died on 9/11 and that Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh is “the greatest American.” Often, as he was being escorted from the courtroom, he would cry out, “God curse you, America” – or sing something called “Burn in the U.S.A.” (a vicious parody of the patriotic Springsteen tune).
While he may never really have been the 20th hijacker, it seems clear that Moussaoui definitely knew about the impending attacks – but said nothing about it to authorities after he had been arrested. If he had done so, it might have averted the murder of 3,000 Americans. Also, however bizarre his behavior has been or how delusional his fantasies about his role in Al Qaeda, he obviously knows the difference between right and wrong. The bottom line is that, if there were ever a case for which capital punishment is deserved, it is this one. When the needle is inserted in his arm it will be a triumph of common sense, of justice, and of the American judicial system.
Neil C. Livingstone
Dr. Neil C. Livingstone, chairman and CEO of ExecutiveAction LLC and an internationally respected expert in terrorism and counterterrorism, homeland defense, foreign policy, and national security, has written nine books and more than 200 articles in those fields. A gifted speaker as well as writer, he has made more than 1300 television appearances, delivered over 500 speeches both in the United States and overseas, and testified before Congress on numerous occasions. He holds three Masters Degrees as well as a Ph.D. from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy. He was the founder and, prior to assuming his present post, CEO of GlobalOptions Inc., which went public in 2005 and currently has sales of more than $80 million.