Specialist on cults: Defendant vulnerable to al Qaeda recruiters

Defense experts call Moussaoui schizophrenic

ALEXANDRIA, Virginia (CNN) — The expert who literally helped write the book on diagnosing mental illness testified Wednesday that 9/11 conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui is schizophrenic.

Michael First, a psychiatrist who edited the latest edition of the profession’s standard diagnostic guidebook, told jurors that Moussaoui also suffers from paranoid and grandiose delusions and disorganized thinking.

Moussaoui’s most persistent grandiose belief, First said, is that President Bush will free him from jail, perhaps as part of a prisoner exchange with al Qaeda.

Moussaoui also believes he could be of value to the United States, First said, because his testimony could “clear up September 11 in 15 minutes.”

“You will know Allah is the true God, when George W. Bush sets me free to go to JFK” airport, Moussaoui repeatedly tells his jail guards, First said.

“Moussaoui, Fly Over the Cuckoo Nest,” the defendant declared, mocking the testimony after jurors left the courtroom for the noon break.

Other relatives have illness

Frist is among six experts hired by the defense who have concluded Moussaoui is, or probably is afflicted with paranoid schizophrenia.

Moussaoui, 37, pleaded guilty to terrorism conspiracy a year ago in the 9/11 attacks.

Jurors, who already have held Moussaoui responsible for at least some 9/11 deaths, will decide whether he should be executed or spend the rest of his life in prison. The defense is trying to convince them to consider Moussaoui’s mental illness as a mitigating factor.

First’s testimony agreed with that of clinical psychologist Xavier Amador, a defense witness who told the jury this week that Moussaoui’s delusions include the paranoid beliefs that his attorneys want to see him killed and that the FBI had him under surveillance before his August 2001 arrest.

Moussaoui asserts that an electric fan of his was implanted with a listening device when he lived in Oklahoma in early 2001. The government says he was not under surveillance.

“One of his delusions drove him to testify,” Amador said. Moussaoui’s writings reveal that he thought, “If I can just get up and talk to the American people, I will be set free,” Amador said.

Both of Moussaoui’s sisters, who live in France, are diagnosed with forms of schizophrenia and take drugs to control their symptoms. Moussaoui’s father is hospitalized in France with bipolar disorder.

Amador also said schizophrenia makes it hard for untreated patients to multitask, which might explain why Moussaoui had difficulty with basic flight school maneuvers and failed to earn his pilot’s license when he came to the United States.

A ‘sense of belonging’ from Islamic radicals

Earlier Wednesday, jurors heard testimony from cult expert Paul Martin, an Ohio psychologist who said Moussaoui was “swept away” by Islamic radicals when he moved from France to England in the 1990s.

Martin said Moussaoui likely found “a sense of belonging” among the radicals who purported to represent a pure form of Islam.

“They come from a community that’s been kicked around,” Martin said. Moussaoui and the recruiters had a “feeling they’ve shared the sufferings of their own heritage,” he added.

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Martin said Moussaoui felt a need for social respect and to feel valued after he moved from France, where he had a fractured family life and no religious grounding.

“He’s away from his family, he’s lonely, he doesn’t have any friends,” Martin said. Moussaoui smiled and nodded his head.

Martin said that these factors, as well as Moussaoui’s economic hardship and inability at first to speak English, made him vulnerable to recruitment by radicals.

Martin has not interviewed Moussaoui and conceded some details of his al Qaeda recruitment remain a mystery.

“You’re not testifying al Qaeda is a cult, are you?” prosecutor Robert Spencer asked. Martin replied that the terror group is “similar in how cults recruit.”

After Martin’s testimony, defense attorneys read the jury a declassified CIA report from 2003 asserting that at al Qaeda’s camps, “classical brainwashing techniques … turned recruits into committed operatives.”

“Time spent in Afghanistan mobilized, radicalized and transformed” them, the report said, adding that the brainwashing and isolation from families was designed to prevent “backsliding” by second-wave hijacker candidates.

Some 9/11 families to testify for defense

About a dozen relatives of September 11 families who oppose the death penalty for Moussaoui are expected to testify for the defense.

On Tuesday, the defense read the jury a statement from Mohammad al-Kahtani, an al Qaeda operative captured in Afghanistan in December 2001 and detained at the U.S. military base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Investigators believe Kahtani was sent to the United States in August 2001 to be the 20th hijacker on September 11, a role once attributed to Moussaoui.

Trial evidence has shown lead hijacker Mohamed Atta was waiting to pick up Kahtani at the Orlando, Florida, airport, but he was denied entry into the United States.

Osama bin Laden chose Kahtani for the suicide mission instead of letting him fight with the al Qaeda-allied Taliban forces against its rival Northern Alliance militias, according to the statement.

Bin Laden “took Kahtani’s hand and told him he did not want Kahtani to fight on the front lines, but instead, a special mission in America awaited him.”

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Apr. 19, 2006
Phil Hirschkorn

Religion News Blog posted this on Thursday April 20, 2006.
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