Who Are the Terrorists In America’s Jails? Part 1

Al-Qaeda terrorist Zacarias Mousaoui
Al-Qaeda terrorist Zacarias Mousaoui (Foreground photo: video screenshot; background photo: Reuters)


There were 443 convicted terrorists imprisoned in the United States (as of April 2016), according to The New York Times. They are serving sentences for crimes ranging from sharing ISIS propaganda online to carrying out terror attacks on U.S soil.

We are taking a snapshot of some of those people and telling you their stories.


Part One: Zacarias Moussaoui

Zacarias Moussaoui, 49, is currently serving six life sentences without parole for his part in the 9/11 attacks.

He is a French citizen of Moroccan descent. He moved around and spent significant time in the UK associating with London-based extremists. Moussaoui is known to have affiliated with Al-Muhajiroun, Anjem Choudary’s organization (Choudary was convicted and sent to prison last year for supporting ISIS). He also traveled to an al-Qaeda training camp in Afghanistan and to visit a top al-Qaeda lieutenant in Pakistan.

Moussaoui learned to fly planes at a flight school in Oklahoma but aroused the suspicions of the instructors after asking odd questions. They reported him to the FBI.

In August 2001, unable to obtain a search warrant to go through his personal effects, the FBI arrested him for an immigration violation. But after 9/11 his case was reopened. Agents soon obtained a search warrant and found information linking him to the 9/11 hijackers.

In December 2001, he was indicted and charged with:

  • Conspiracy to commit acts of terrorism transcending national boundaries
  • Conspiracy to commit aircraft piracy
  • Conspiracy to destroy aircraft
  • Conspiracy to use weapons of mass destruction
  • Conspiracy to murder United States employees
  • Conspiracy to destroy property

Moussaoui was believed to be the “20th hijacker,” trained to stand in in case one of the others failed to carry out their part.

However, both Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, and Osama Bin Laden repudiated these claims, saying they never asked him to participate in the 9/11 plot. The 9/11 Commission found his role in the attacks to be “unclear.”

At his trial, Moussaoui initially said he was part of a separate al-Qaeda plot to hijack a plane and fly it into the White House. He refused to cooperate, representing himself and sending away his attorneys, telling the court, “I am Al Qaeda. I am a sworn enemy.”

Mousssaoui later pleaded guilty to the six terrorism charges leveled against him. He was sentenced in 2006 and had his sentence confirmed by an appeals court in 2010.

However, he later provided testimony for a lawsuit brought by a group of 9/11 families, alleging that senior members of the Saudi royal family were connected to al-Qaeda. In 2014, he alleged that other al-Qaeda members were now out to kill him, accusing him of being a “rat.”



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Elliot Friedland
Elliot Friedland is a research fellow at Clarion Project.

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