Sister, Experts Testify on Moussaoui Troubled Childhood

“Death to the Jew!”

Zacarias Moussaoui shouted yesterday as he was led from the federal courtroom, an apparent reference to one of his attorneys. Several hours later, the defense called to the stand a Frenchman who is Jewish and who considered Moussaoui to be his friend.

Giles Cohen said he met Moussaoui, a Muslim, in 1986. Moussaoui moved into Cohen’s home for a few months in 1989, and the two discussed politics, often laughing and joking as they explored the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“What seduced me was his big smile, his love for life, his sense of humor,” Cohen recalled. “We would pretend to be fighting and then at the end fall into each other’s arms,” Cohen said through an interpreter in U.S. District Court in Alexandria.

When he heard that Moussaoui was suspected of involvement in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Cohen told jurors at Moussaoui death penalty trial, “my first reaction was total shock. . . . Associating the name Zacarias with a terrorist is something that’s out of my comprehension. I think it’s a bad joke and inconceivable.” As he left the stand, Cohen glanced at his friend, who was expressionless.

The testimony was part of a defense effort to explain what may be the unexplainable: how a man described by his sister yesterday as once “the little sweetheart of the family” was transformed into an al-Qaeda terrorist and the only person convicted in the United States on charges stemming from the Sept. 11 attacks. From the stand last week, Moussaoui told his Jewish lawyer, Gerald T. Zerkin, that he wants to “exterminate” American Jews.

As the trial moved into what may be its final week, defense lawyers tried to sketch a more sympathetic Moussaoui for the jury. Their task, as ever, had been complicated by their client, whose “Death to the Jew!” outburst occurred as court broke after morning testimony.

Testifying Thursday, Moussaoui, 37, said his only regret about the attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people is that more Americans did not die. He labeled the victims and family members who testified against him “disgusting.”

In the trial’s first phase, Moussaoui testified that he wanted to kill all Americans and said he had planned to fly a fifth hijacked plane into the White House on Sept. 11.

The defense tried to repair the damage yesterday by first emphasizing Moussaoui’s troubled life — his abusive father, his neglectful mother and what they called his mental illness — as factors the jury should consider. Moussaoui pleaded guilty last year to conspiring with al-Qaeda, and jurors are now considering whether he should be executed.

A social worker who researched Moussaoui past testified that he was in and out of orphanages while growing up in his native France. His father, Omar, beat his mother, Aicha el-Wafi, crushing her jaw with his hands and trying to run her over with a car.

Both of Moussaoui’s sisters were found to have mental illnesses, and his father lives under heavy sedation at a French psychiatric hospital, said the social worker, Jan Vogelsang. “I heard story after story of mental illness and bizarre behavior in that family,” she testified.

Late in the day, Xavier Amador, a clinical psychiatrist, testified that he and three other mental health professionals have found that Moussaoui has schizophrenia. Amador will take the stand again today.

As a teenager, Moussaoui faced racial bias because of his dark skin and Moroccan extraction, several witnesses testified. Yet he remained “the little sweetheart of the family,” Moussaoui sister Jamilla testified in a videotaped interview played yesterday in court. In the interview late last year, she spoke from France, where she is being treated for schizophrenia.

Other witnesses described a vibrant, friendly teenager who liked to go to parties and whose childhood hero was Martin Luther King Jr. “He enjoyed living. He enjoyed life,” said Christoph Marguel, a high school friend of Moussaoui.

But something changed a few years after Moussaoui moved to London in 1992. He went there intending to learn English and become an international businessman, but he soon became immersed in Islamic studies.

Fabrice Guillin, a childhood friend, testified that Moussaoui began objecting when his sisters wore Western-style clothes instead of traditional Muslim veils.

Moussaoui testified last week about attending London’s Brixton mosque, and the mosque’s chairman, Abdul Haqq Baker, testified by videotape yesterday.

He said Moussaoui became confrontational and talked about jihad, or holy war, after he was exposed to radical fundamentalists who would hang around outside the building. “He would be dismissive or didn’t speak to you at all. You could see the disdain in his face,” Baker said.

Moussaoui was eventually banned from the mosque after he showed up wearing military-style clothing, a backpack and boots.

Marguel said Moussaoui cut his hair very short and became secretive and aloof. By 1996, when he saw Moussaoui on a visit home from London, he thought Moussaoui “was already more distant. He was less lively.” He never saw Moussaoui again — until yesterday.