Brother's book details Moussaoui's shift to militancy

Star Tribune/May 20, 2003
By Greg Gordon

Washington, D.C. -- As a boy in southern France, Zacarias Moussaoui stole bicycles and fired slingshots at passing vans, his brother recalls.

By age 14, the dark-skinned youth of Moroccan descent had experienced racism and was growing deeply bitter toward his treatment, Abd Samad Moussaoui writes in a newly translated book. He says Zacarias was later bloodied at a disco when he danced close to his blonde-haired, blue-eyed girlfriend.

In "Zacarias, My Brother: the making of a terrorist," Abd Samad describes his gradual conclusion that Zacarias' obsession with racism and his lack of religious education made him a ripe recruiting prospect for Islamic fanatics.

The 34-year-old Moussaoui, who was arrested in the Twin Cities 3 1/2 weeks before the events of Sept. 11, is the only figure charged in a U.S. court in connection with the attacks. He faces conspiracy charges that could carry the death penalty. "Perhaps, seeing Zacarias change and become so introspective and silent, I should have been more alarmed," Abd Samad writes.

"Zacarias, My Brother" is expected in bookstores in late June.

"I could have suspected drugs, or a sect, but I didn't," Abd Samad wrote.

"By the time . . . the pieces of the jigsaw suddenly came together -- gestures, startling words, silences -- it was too late."

Abd Samad's book became a national bestseller when it was released in France last September. An English version is due in U.S. bookstores next month.

In the book, Abd Samad Moussaoui offers a perspective distinctly different than that of his mother, Aicha el-Wafi, who phones Zacarias in jail each month and has crusaded against the death penalty. Abd Samad said he stopped speaking to his mother years ago and has not seen his brother since 1995. El-Wafi was not close to Zacarias until after his arrest, he wrote.

Abd Samad, who teaches at a technical high school in Narbonne, tells of a dysfunctional family in which his Moroccan parents moved to Bayonne, in southern France, in 1965 and divorced in 1971, when Zacarias was 3. El-Wafi at first couldn't support her four children while working in cleaning jobs, so she put them in an orphanage, he said.

Little affection

He and Zacarias, who is a year younger, were inseparable, he said.

Although El-Wafi reclaimed the boys and two older daughters after a year and moved them into an apartment, he said, she didn't give them "the slightest tender word . . . or the merest gesture of affection. She didn't know how to do that."

Still, he said, they saw her as "a heroine, a fighter who did everything she could for her children."

He said El-Wafi began seeing another man and persuaded the children to rebuff their father when he came to visit them.

After they moved into a lower-income housing project, he and Zacarias began to steal bikes and throw them into a canal. They also slung stones at passing vans until one driver stopped and chased them.

After the family moved to Mullhouse, Zacarias began to make friends, and became a youth handball champion, Abd Samad wrote.

When their mother uprooted the family to take a post office job in Narbonne, Abd Samad said, 12-year-old Zacarias developed "an edge of bitterness."

And when Abd Samad was channeled into a vocational school instead of a university, both brothers were convinced he was a victim of bigotry. Moussaoui later followed his path.

Seeking vengeance

As teens, the boys helped their "stepfather" build a small house in a middle-class neighborhood, where Zacarias found social acceptance despite his color. He was "smart, fun to be around, quick-witted and a charmer," said Abd Samad.

Zacarias argued with his mother more and more often during these years. He left home at 18 and moved into an apartment with his girlfriend, Fanny.

One night at a disco, bigots called Zacarias a racial slur and attacked him as he danced to a slow number with Fanny, leaving him badly bloodied, Abd Samad wrote.

Zacarias got his vocational certificate, landed a job at a secondary school and took economics classes at the university in Montpellier. But when he later looked for other work, he "suspected that each refusal was racially motivated," his brother wrote.

He said El-Wafi never taught her children Arabic or anything about religion. So Zacarias was impressionable when he met members of the militant Muslim Brotherhood at the university.

"Zacarias discovered a dangerous caricature of Islam," Abd Samad wrote. "Everything that they said was marked by a desire for vengeance."

In 1993, Zacarias parted ways with Fanny to go to England, where he was determined to learn English and pursue a graduate business degree.

Hungry for acceptance

It was in London that Zacarias first set foot in a mosque and, apparently, was drawn into the radical Wahhabist movement that advocated violence against non-Muslims. Abd Samad said he was stunned when Moussaoui returned home with a full beard, shaved head and trousers cut off at mid calf.

In 1995, he said, Zacarias showed up at the Narbonne mosque, stood up and started to explain the Wahhabi creed. But the congregation protested, and the imam asked Zacarias whether he could speak Arabic or read the Qur'an.

"Zacarias lost his temper," Abd Samad said. "He got to his feet and tried to hit the imam. The young people intervened and threw him out."

Abd Samad theorized that, had Zacarias been raised with a moderate, Sunni tradition, "he would have been much more resistant to brainwashing."

Instead, he said, his brother had "no moral weapons with which to defend himself" against being indoctrinated with radical teachings.

Because he was also hungry -- he lived in a homeless shelter when he first moved to England -- he was easily drawn into the mosques where he could get a full plate of food.

Zacarias, he concluded, was an easy target for radical elements that drew him into the Al-Qaida terrorist movement, a group he has acknowledged joining.

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