Paris Warns U.S. Against Moussaoui Death Penalty
PARIS (Reuters) - Paris has warned Washington it could review its cooperation with the Sept. 11 probe if the United States sought the death penalty against a French national charged with aiding the people behind the attacks, French rights groups said Tuesday.
They said Justice Minister Marylise Lebranchu told them in a letter that she had instructed her officials to contact the U.S. Justice Department to voice concern that information gleaned in France could put Zacarias Moussaoui on death row.
The 33-year-old is charged with conspiring with Saudi-born militant Osama bin Laden and his al Qaeda network in connection with the hijacked airliner attacks in New York and Washington, which left more than 3,000 people dead last September.
After reaching an agreement with the French government, U.S. prosecutor Robert Spencer attempted to interview Moussaoui's relatives in France this week. "France will take steps to alter the agreement stipulating that any information transmitted to the U.S. judicial authorities ... cannot be used by prosecutors pressing for a death penalty," Human rights groups, including Amnesty International, quoted Lebranchu's March 15 letter as saying.
Moussaoui was the first man charged over the attacks in which hijackers seized four commercial airliners, crashed two into the World Trade Center in New York and one into the Pentagon. The fourth plane crashed in rural Pennsylvania.
Rights groups say Spencer, who questioned Moussaoui's brother Monday, would use the information to argue the suspect should be put to death. U.S. prosecutors are due to decide by March 29 if they will seek the death penalty, the rights groups said.
Moussaoui's brother refused to answer Spencer's questions while his mother failed to turn up for an interview. But the U.S. official was thought to be seeking to interview others connected with the family.
Four of the six charges for which a not guilty plea has been entered on Moussaoui's behalf carry a possible death penalty. Lebranchu has already said France, which scrapped capital punishment in 1981, would not accept the death penalty for Moussaoui.