Aicha el-Wafi, 59, says weeks of stress, a failing appetite and little sleep during the trial of her son Zacarias Moussaoui have left her a wreck. As his trial nears an end and she awaits word on whether he will be sentenced to death, Moussaoui's mother talked with TIME Paris correspondent Bruce Crumley about her son's path to Islamic extremism and what she insists is a show trial intended to make him the scapegoat for 9/11. Excerpts from the interview:
TIME: This trial and your son's declarations during it are getting a lot of attention. Is there something you'd want to say to people that you fear may be otherwise getting lost in the bustle?
Aicha el-Wafi: What I want to say is that the people responsible for the horrible crimes and murderous tragedy of Sept. 11 must be judged, and families of victims and all of America deserve justice. But that's not what's happening today. Who really believes Zacarias Moussaoui played a part in those attacks? He was in prison on Sept. 11, and had been for weeks. He's admitted he was in the U.S. to prepare for some plot. He's said he's a member of al-Qaeda, and proud of that. He's pleaded guilty against the urging of the lawyers and my pleadings not to. So, with all that going against him, why not admit he was part of the Sept. 11 attack as well? Because he wasn't. And that's the deep injustice of this trial: he's being judged for the things he says, the things he believes, the convictions he has that shock us all, but not for his involvement in the attacks.
You know, when I was in Virginia for the first part of the trial, and during an earlier visit to New York, I spoke with and even stayed in the homes of families who had lost loved ones in the attacks. And do you know what they said? While they were disgusted with things Zacarias has said, they said they, too, thought this trial was a farce. They said it was an attempt by the American government to deliver a head on a stake to answer for Sept. 11.
But not everyone is duped, you can be certain. Lots of people watching in America and around the world know this is a show trial. The families of victims know it. They told me, "We want the real people behind this. We're not going to be fooled or satisfied by this sideshow." They know this thing is heading towards a pre-determined outcome, and for political reasons. In fact, you know what happened to me recently? The son and grandson of the two people who were executed for spying for the Russians the Rosenbergs came up to me, gave me a book about that affair, and said 'Have courage lots of people know what this is really about."
But his dedication to al-Qaeda and his violent accusations and comments regarding America, Jews, foes of jihad don't exactly support his claims of innocence in 9/11.
Yes. This is one reason I stopped doing the telephone calls with him last May 45 minutes, once a month. Mostly, it was because he'd pleaded guilty, and trying to speak reason with him on what he was going to do made no more sense. But also, whenever we spoke about anything beyond me and him the family, things from the past you couldn't have a discussion. Religion, politics, the situation with Israel and Palestine, the American action in the world his positions were taken, mind made up, there was no room for any flexibility or debate. It was really very striking: the contrast between the Zacary I recognized and knew when we spoke about us, and this militant he'd become on anything else.
What were your reactions when he made provocative, outrageous statements in court, ones clearly designed to mock and belittle the personal and national loss in 9/11?
It was atrocious. Horrible. I had to look away. I plugged my ears and closed my eyes. I felt faint. Eventually, I left the courtroom. I felt terrible for the families of victims, people who had lost their loved ones in the attacks. What must they have felt?! I even felt bad for anyone else in America who'd be shocked. It made me feel sick for them. But it also proved a personal blow to me as well: I could actually see him digging his own grave each time he said such things.
It was also very hard to look at him afterwards. I'd see this man and listen to the terrible things he'd say and wonder, 'Do I know this man? Can he really be the son I know so well? Is there, somewhere deep down in there, still a core of the old Zacary people knew and loved underneath all the extremism?" Often, during the phone calls, I knew there was. After these outbursts, it was hard to know.