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Profile: Zacarias Moussaoui


Positions that Zacarias Moussaoui has held:




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Zacarias Moussaoui actively participated in the following events:


1995: French Intelligence Begin Compiling Moussaoui's Ties to Terrorism      Complete 911 Timeline

       French intelligence begins tracking Zacarias Moussaoui, who is a French national. Over the next few years they develop a substantial dossier on him, including information demonstrating that he has links to al-Qaeda, has made several journeys to Afghanistan, and has undertaken training there at a terrorism camp. This information will be passed to the FBI's Minnesota field office (see August 22, 2001), and to the counterterrorism section at FBI headquarters in late August 2001. [Seattle Times, 7/7/02]
People and organizations involved: Zacarias Moussaoui, al-Qaeda, France

May 15, 1998: Oklahoma FBI Memo Warns of Potential Terrorist-Related Flight Training; No Investigation Ensues      Complete 911 Timeline

       An FBI pilot sends his supervisor in the Oklahoma City FBI office a memo warning that he has observed “large numbers of Middle Eastern males receiving flight training at Oklahoma airports in recent months.” The memo, titled “Weapons of Mass Destruction,” further states this “may be related to planned terrorist activity” and “light planes would be an ideal means of spreading chemicals or biological agents.” The memo does not call for an investigation, and none occurs. [NewsOK, 5/29/02; 9/11 Congressional Inquiry, 7/24/03 (B)] The memo is “sent to the bureau's Weapons of Mass Destruction unit and forgotten.” [New York Daily News, 9/25/02] In 1999, it is learned that an al-Qaeda agent has studied flight training in Norman, Oklahoma. Hijackers Mohamed Atta and Marwan Alshehhi will briefly visit the same school in 2000; Zacarias Moussaoui trains at the school in 2001.
People and organizations involved: Zacarias Moussaoui, Marwan Alshehhi, Mohamed Atta, al-Qaeda, Federal Bureau of Investigation

July 7, 1998: Stolen Passport Shows Ties Between Hijackers and Spanish Terrorist Cells      Complete 911 Timeline

       Thieves snatch a passport from a car driven by a US tourist in Barcelona, Spain, which later finds its way into the hands of would-be hijacker Ramzi Bin al-Shibh. Bin al-Shibh allegedly uses the name on the passport in the summer of 2001 as he wires money to pay flight school tuition for Zacarias Moussaoui in Oklahoma. Investigators believe the movement of this passport shows connections between the 9/11 plotters in Germany and a support network in Spain, made up mostly by ethnic Syrians. “Investigators believe that the Syrians served as deep-cover mentors, recruiters, financiers and logistics providers for the hijackers—elite backup for an elite attack team.” [Los Angeles Times, 1/14/03] Mohamed Atta twice travels to Spain in 2001, perhaps to make contact with members of this Spanish support team.
People and organizations involved: Zacarias Moussaoui, Ramzi Bin al-Shibh, Mohamed Atta

1999: French Observe Moussaoui Traveling Between London, Pakistan, and Afghanistan      Complete 911 Timeline

Zacarias Moussaoui in 1989.
Zacarias Moussaoui, living in London, is observed by French intelligence making several trips to Pakistan and Afghanistan. French investigators later claim the British spy agency MI5 was alerted and requested to place Moussaoui under surveillance. The request appears to have been ignored. [Independent, 12/11/01]
People and organizations involved: France, UK Security Service, Zacarias Moussaoui

September-October 2000: Moussaoui Visits Malaysia After CIA Stops Surveillance There      Complete 911 Timeline

Yazid Sufaat.
Zacarias Moussaoui visits Malaysia twice, and stays at the very same condominium where the January al-Qaeda meeting (see January 5-8, 2000) was held. [CNN, 8/30/02; Los Angeles Times, 2/2/02; Washington Post, 2/3/02] After that meeting, Malaysian intelligence keeps watch on the condominium at the request of the CIA. However, the CIA stops the surveillance before Moussaoui arrives, spoiling a chance to expose the 9/11 plot by monitoring Moussaoui's later travels. The Malaysians later say they were surprised by the CIA's lack of interest. “We couldn't fathom it, really,” Rais Yatim, Malaysia's Legal Affairs minister, told Newsweek. “There was no show of concern.” [Newsweek, 6/2/02] While Moussaoui is in Malaysia, Yazid Sufaat, the owner of the condominium, signs letters falsely identifying Moussaoui as a representative of his wife's company. [Washington Post, 2/3/02; Reuters, 9/20/02] When Moussaoui is later arrested in the US about one month before the 9/11 attacks, this letter in his possession could have led investigators back to the condominium and the connections with the January 2000 meeting attended by two of the hijackers. [USA Today, 1/30/02] Moussaoui's belongings also contained phone numbers that could have linked him to Ramzi Bin al-Shibh (and his roommate, Mohamed Atta), another participant in the Malaysian meeting. [Associated Press, 12/12/01 (B)]
People and organizations involved: Mohamed Atta, Ramzi Bin al-Shibh, Yazid Sufaat, Rais Yatim, Zacarias Moussaoui, Malaysian Secret Service, Central Intelligence Agency

October 2000-February 2001: Moussaoui Travels to London and Afghanistan      Complete 911 Timeline

Zacarias Moussaoui passing through a London airport (date unknown).
Zacarias Moussaoui had been staying in Malaysia so that he could take flight training classes at the Malaysian Flying Academy in Malacca. However, he is unhappy with the quality of training there. He takes the $35,000 given to him by his hosts, Yazid Sufaat and Hambali, and spends it to buy fertilizer to construct bombs. Then he gives up and travels to London in early December, where he meets with Ramzi Bin al-Shibh (who stays in London from December 2 to 9). Hambali sends a messenger to Khalid Shaikh Mohammed in Afghanistan to complain about Moussaoui's attitude. On December 9, Moussaoui leaves London. He makes his way to Afghanistan and meets with Mohammed. Mohammed decides to send him to take flight training classes in the US instead. He is given $35,000 in cash to pay for flying lessons by someone in Pakistan. After he enters the US in February, bin al-Shibh wires him another $14,000 from Germany. [9/11 Congressional Inquiry, 7/24/03; Washington Post, 3/28/03; Knight Ridder, 9/9/02]
People and organizations involved: Yazid Sufaat, Zacarias Moussaoui, Nurjaman Riduan Isamuddin, Ramzi Bin al-Shibh, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed

February 23-June 2001: Moussaoui Takes Lessons at Flight School Previously Used by al-Qaeda      Complete 911 Timeline

       Zacarias Moussaoui flies to the US. Three days later, he starts flight training at the Airman Flight School in Norman, Oklahoma. (Other Islamic extremists had previously trained at the same flight school or other schools in the area (see September 1999)). He trains there until May, but does not do well and drops out before getting a pilot's license. His visa expires on May 22, but he does not attempt to renew it or get another one. He stays in Norman, arranging to change flight schools, and frequently exercising in a gym. [MSNBC, 12/11/01; 9/11 Congressional Inquiry, 10/17/02] According to US investigators, would-be hijacker Ramzi Bin al-Shibh later says he meets Moussaoui in Karachi (Pakistan) in June 2001. [Washington Post, 11/20/02]
People and organizations involved: Ramzi Bin al-Shibh, Airman Flight School, Zacarias Moussaoui

Early August 2001: Moussaoui Moves to Minnesota      Complete 911 Timeline

       Zacarias Moussaoui moves from Oklahoma to Minnesota some time in early August, in order to attend flight school training there. [MSNBC, 12/11/01; 9/11 Congressional Inquiry, 10/17/02]
People and organizations involved: Zacarias Moussaoui

August 13-15, 2001: Moussaoui Immediately Raises Suspicions at Flight School      Complete 911 Timeline

       Zacarias Moussaoui trains at the Pan Am International Flight School in Minneapolis, Minnesota, where he pays $8,300 ($1500 by credit card and the remainder in cash) to use a Boeing 474 Model 400 aircraft simulator. After just one day of training most of the staff is suspicious that he is a terrorist, especially after they discuss with him “how much fuel [is] on board a 747-400 and how much damage that could cause if it hit[s] anything.” Staff members call the FBI with their concerns later that day. [New York Times, 2/8/02; 9/11 Congressional Inquiry, 10/17/02] They are suspicious because:
In contrast to all the other students at this high-level flight school, he has no aviation background, little previous training, and no pilot's license. [9/11 Congressional Inquiry, 10/17/02]
He wants to fly a 747 not because he plans to be a pilot, but as an “ego boosting thing.” [New York Times, 10/18/02] Yet within hours of his arrival, it is clear he “was not some affluent joyrider.” [New York Times, 2/8/02]
He is “extremely” interested in the operation of the plane's doors and control panel. [9/11 Congressional Inquiry, 10/17/02] He also is very keen to learn the protocol for communicating with the flight tower, despite having no plans to become an actual pilot. [New York Times, 2/8/02]
He is evasive and belligerent when asked about his background. When an instructor, who notes from his records that Moussaoui is from France, attempts to greet him in French, Moussaoui appears not to understand, saying that he had spent very little time in France and that he is from the Middle East. The instructor considers it odd that Moussaoui did not specify the Middle Eastern country. [Minneapolis Star-Tribune, 12/21/01; Washington Post, 1/2/02]
He tells a flight instructor he is not a Muslim, but the instructor senses he is lying about this. [New Yorker, 9/30/02]
He says he would “love” to fly a simulated flight from London to New York, raising fears he has plans to hijack such a flight. [9/11 Congressional Inquiry, 10/17/02] His original e-mail to the flight school similarly stated he wanted to be good enough to fly from London to New York. [New York Times, 2/8/02]
He pays for thousands of dollars in expenses from a large wad of cash. [New York Times, 2/8/02]
He seems determined to pack a large amount of training in a short period for no apparent reason. [New York Times, 2/8/02]
He mostly practices flying in the air, not taking off or landing (although reports claiming he did not want to take off or land at all appear to be an exaggeration). [New York Times, 2/8/02; Slate, 5/21/02; Minneapolis Star-Tribune, 12/21/01; New York Times, 5/22/02] Failing to get much initial interest from the FBI, the flight instructor tells the FBI agents, “Do you realize how serious this is? This man wants training on a 747. A 747 fully loaded with fuel could be used as a weapon!” [New York Times, 2/8/02]
People and organizations involved: Zacarias Moussaoui, Pan Am International Flight School, Federal Bureau of Investigation

August 15, 2001: Moussaoui Is Arrested; FBI Headquarters Uninterested      Complete 911 Timeline

Zacarias Moussaoui.
Based on the concerns of flight school staff, Zacarias Moussaoui is arrested and detained in Minnesota on the excuse of an immigration violation. [Time, 5/27/02] The FBI confiscates his possessions, including a computer laptop, but does not have a search warrant to search through them. When arresting him, they note that he possesses two knives, fighting gloves, and shin guards, and has prepared “through physical training for violent confrontation.” An FBI interview of him adds more concerns. For example, he states that he is in the US working as a “marketing consultant” for a computer company, but is unable to provide any details of his employment. Nor can he convincingly explain his $32,000 bank balance. [9/11 Congressional Inquiry, 10/17/02; MSNBC, 12/11/01] An FBI report states that when asked about his trips to Pakistan, “the questioning caused him to become extremely agitated, and he refused to discuss the matter further.” The report also notes, “Moussaoui was extremely evasive in many of his answers.” [CNN, 9/28/02] His roommate is interviewed on the same day, and tells agents that Moussaoui believes it is “acceptable to kill civilians who harm Muslims,” that Moussaoui approves of Muslims who die as “martyrs, and that Moussaoui might be willing to act on his beliefs.” [Washington Post, 5/24/02] Minnesota FBI agents quickly become frustrated at the lack of interest in the case from higher ups, and grow increasingly concerned. [New York Times, 2/8/02]
People and organizations involved: FBI Minnesota field office, Zacarias Moussaoui, FBI Headquarters

September 11, 2001: FBI Agents Obtain Warrant for Moussaoui Too Late      Complete 911 Timeline

       Zacarias Moussaoui reportedly cheers as he watches the 9/11 attack on television inside a prison, where he is being held on immigration charges. [BBC, 12/12/01] Within an hour of the attacks, the Minnesota FBI uses a memo written to FBI headquarters shortly after Moussaoui's arrest to ask permission from a judge for the search warrant they have been desperately seeking. Even after the attacks, FBI headquarters is still attempting to block the search of Moussaoui's computer, characterizing the similarities between the actual attack and the fears expressed by the local FBI agents before 9/11 as a mere coincidence. [Time, 5/21/02] However, a federal judge approves the warrant that afternoon. [New Yorker, 9/30/02] Minnesota FBI Agent Coleen Rowley notes that this very memo was previously deemed insufficient by FBI headquarters to get a search warrant, and the fact that they are immediately granted one when finally allowed to ask shows “the missing piece of probable cause was only the [FBI headquarters'] failure to appreciate that such an event could occur.” [Time, 5/21/02] The search uncovers information suggesting Moussaoui may have been planning an attack using crop dusters, but it does not reveal any direct connection to the 9/11 hijackers. However, investigators find some German telephone numbers and the name “Ahad Sabet.” The numbers allow them to determine the name is an alias for Ramzi Bin al-Shibh, Mohamed Atta's former roommate, and they find he wired Moussaoui money. They also find a document connecting Moussaoui with the Malaysian Yazid Sufaat, a lead that could have led to hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar. [MSNBC, 12/11/01; New Yorker, 9/30/02] Rowley later suggests that if they had received the search warrant sooner, “There is at least some chance that ... may have limited the September 11th attacks and resulting loss of life.” [Time, 5/27/02]
People and organizations involved: Zacarias Moussaoui, Mohamed Atta, Ramzi Bin al-Shibh, Yazid Sufaat, Khalid Almihdhar, FBI Minnesota field office, FBI Headquarters, Nawaf Alhazmi, Coleen Rowley

December 11, 2001: Moussaoui Indicted, Could Face Death Penalty      Complete 911 Timeline

       Zacarias Moussaoui is criminally indicted for his role in the 9/11 attacks. If he is found guilty, he could be sentenced to death. [MSNBC, 12/11/01; Associated Press, 12/12/01] Moussaoui has admitted to being a member of al-Qaeda, but while he has been involved in militant activity, many have expressed doubts that he was involved in the 9/11 plot.
People and organizations involved: al-Qaeda, Zacarias Moussaoui

March 27, 2003: Khalid Shaikh Mohammed Says Moussaoui Not Involved in 9/11      Complete 911 Timeline

       The Washington Post reports that information obtained from interrogations of 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed further undermines the government's case against Zacarias Moussaoui for his alleged involvement in the 9/11 attacks. Apparently, Mohammed told his interrogators that Moussaoui was not part of the 9/11 hijacker group, but was in the US for a second wave of attacks that were planned for early 2002. Details of any such plan have not been revealed. Legal experts agree that at the very least, “on the death penalty, [this information] is quite helpful to Moussaoui.” In spite of Mohammed's revelations, the government still feels that it can convict Moussaoui of being involved in a conspiracy with al-Qaeda. [Washington Post, 3/28/03]
People and organizations involved: al-Qaeda, Zacarias Moussaoui, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed

May 14, 2003: Judge Rules That Moussaoui Should Have Same Access to Top al-Qaeda Prisoners as Prosecution      Complete 911 Timeline

       In January 2003, Judge Leonie Brinkema ruled that Zacarias Moussaoui must be allowed to conduct a videotaped deposition of bin al-Shibh. However, the government still refuses to allow Moussaoui access to bin al-Shibh, stating that even its own lawyers do not have access to question al-Qaeda captives. But on May 12, the government revealed that lawyers have been submitting questions to al-Qaeda detainees about Moussaoui's role in the 9/11 plot. Two days later, Judge Brinkema demands to know, “If circumstances have changed such that submission of written questions is now possible, when did the circumstances change and why was neither this court nor the district court so informed at the time?” She also suggests that since the prosecution can submit questions to al-Qaeda operatives in custody, Moussaoui should also be allowed to do the same. [New York Times, 5/15/04]
People and organizations involved: Ramzi Bin al-Shibh, Zacarias Moussaoui, Leonie Brinkema

April 22, 2004: Death Penalty Allowed by Appeals Court      Complete 911 Timeline

       In spite of multiple rulings beginning in 2002 that Zacarias Moussaoui must be allowed to question witnesses, including Ramzi Bin al-Shibh, the government has continued to refuse any access to high-level al-Qaeda prisoners. Because of this, Judge Brinkema sanctions the government by ruling in October 2003 that the prosecution could not seek the death penalty. [Time, 10/19/03] Prosecutors have appealed the decision and, on this day, a federal appeals panel restores the government's right to seek the death penalty. However, the same ruling hands a partial victory to Moussaoui, ordering prosecutors to work out a method that would permit Moussaoui to question three high-level prisoners. CBS News reports that the judge ruled, “Moussaoui could have access to information from three al-Qaeda prisoners [Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Ramzi Bin al-Shibh, and Mustafa al-Hawsawi] who may be able to exonerate him.” [CBS News, 4/23/04] As a result of the appeals decision, the government will file a motion in July 2004, seeking to conduct a psychiatric evaluation of Moussaoui. The motion explains that the evaluation would only be used to counter any defense strategy to spare Moussaoui the death penalty by citing his mental condition. The motion states, “Like most capital cases, the mental condition of the defendant is likely to play a significant rule during the penalty phase.” [Guardian, 7/7/04; CBS News, 4/23/04]
People and organizations involved: Zacarias Moussaoui, Mustafa al-Hawsawi, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Ramzi Bin al-Shibh, Leonie Brinkema

March 22, 2005: Ruling Prohibits Moussaoui Access to Top al-Qaeda Prisoners, but Issue Remains Unresolved      Complete 911 Timeline

       Zacarias Moussaoui wants captured al-Qaeda leaders Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and Ramzi Bin al-Shibh to testify in his trial. However, an appeals court in April 2004 had only allowed indirect access to those prisoners, and further appeals court decisions in September and October 2004 had reaffirmed that ruling. On this date, the US Supreme Court, without comment, refuses to hear a further appeal. This was expected because the Supreme Court typically doesn't hear such appeals until after the case goes to trial. [Washington Post, 9/14/04; Washington Post, 10/14/04; Washington Post, 3/22/05] Moussaoui's guilty plea one month later (see April 22, 2005) may lead to a new round of appeals. Presiding judge Leonie Brinkema has indicated she believes witness access is “highly relevant to the sentencing phase,” which will begin next, and could constitute “mitigating evidence” that could make the difference between Moussaoui receiving the death penalty or not. [Washington Post, 4/23/05]
People and organizations involved: Leonie Brinkema, Supreme Court, Ramzi Bin al-Shibh, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Zacarias Moussaoui

April 22, 2005: Moussaoui Pleads Guilty to All Charges Against Him, But Denies Role in 9/11 Plot      Complete 911 Timeline

Zacarias Moussaoui.
In an unexpected move, Zacarias Moussaoui pleads guilty to all six terrorism conspiracy charges against him. Moussaoui had been arrested weeks before 9/11, and was formally charged in December 2001 for his role in the 9/11 plot. He says it is “absolutely correct” that he is guilty of the charges: conspiracy to commit acts of terrorism transcending national boundaries; to commit aircraft piracy; to destroy aircraft; to use weapons of mass destruction; to murder US government employees; and to destroy US government property. However, he says, “I was not part of 9/11,” but rather claims he was part of a “broader conspiracy” aimed at post-9/11 attacks. He says he was personally directed by bin Laden to pilot a 747 and “strike the White House” with it, but as part of a “different conspiracy than 9/11.” His plea means there will be no trial to determine guilt, but there will still be a trial to determine his sentencing, which could be as severe as the death penalty. He promises to fight in the sentencing phase, stating he doesn't deserve death because he was not directly connected to the 9/11 plot. [Washington Post, 4/23/05; CNN, 4/23/05] A CNN legal analyst notes that Moussaoui's guilty plea “makes little sense.” Moussaoui may have actually had a chance to be proven not guilty because of the many thorny legal issues his case raises (two suspected members of the al-Qaeda Hamburg cell have been found not guilty in German courts because they have not been allowed access to testimony from al-Qaeda prisoners who might exonerate them, and Moussaoui so far has been denied access to those same prisoners (see March 22, 2005)). It is pointed out that Moussaoui gave a guilty plea without “any promise of leniency in exchange for his plea,” and that he is unlikely to gain any sympathetic advantage from it in the death penalty trial. CNN's analyst notes that the statements in his plea “suggest that Moussaoui [mistakenly] thought he had tricked the prosecution.” Doubts still remain whether Moussaoui is fully mentally sound and capable of legally defending himself. [CNN, 4/28/05] A terrorism expert for RAND Corporation says of Moussaoui's rather confusing statements, “If we thought by the end of the day we would find the holy grail as to exactly what the genesis of 9/11 was and what Moussaoui's role in it was, we have been sorely disappointed. This contradiction in his behavior raises more questions than it answers.” The Washington Post notes that, “It remains uncertain” whether the death penalty trial “will divulge much new information about the plot.” [Washington Post, 4/23/05 (B)]
People and organizations involved: Zacarias Moussaoui, Osama bin Laden

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