Portrait Emerges of an Islamic Hard-Liner

Zacarias Moussaoui told acquaintances he was simply a flying buff who came to the United States to become a pilot.

But the portrait of the jailed French citizen that has emerged since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks is one of a globe-trotting Islamic hard-liner whose movements, actions and contacts closely mirror those of the suspected hijackers.

Moussaoui, who is of Moroccan descent, was arrested on immigration charges shortly before the attacks on New York and the Pentagon.

Born in a sleepy French coastal town, Moussaoui, 33, left to attend college in London in the early 1990s, where he earned a master's degree in international business at South Bank University.

While in England, he became devoutly religious. Acquaintances recalled Tuesday that Moussaoui could be uncompromising on the smallest details of his faith.

Moussaoui once badgered a friend about the length of his trousers.

"He was very strict when it came to his religion," said 19-year-old Khalid Abdulqaadir, who met Moussaoui early this year at a mosque in Oklahoma.

Abdulqaadir said Moussaoui criticized him, saying that a "good Muslim wears his pants above the ankle." Abdulqaadir, a former Oklahoma high school football star, also recalled Moussaoui criticizing the sport for being at odds with Islamic beliefs "because of the violence."

Moussaoui's journey into the radical side of Islam began when he started attending fundamentalist mosques in London.

The change worried family members. Abd Samad, Moussaoui's brother, has condemned his sibling's extremism in interviews with French reporters.

"He fell into this sect-like drift," Samad, a schoolteacher, said recently. "He always felt that his true worth was never recognized and he always said he was a victim of racism. That's ideal terrain for an ideology of hate and rejection."

Moussaoui also was said to have snarled at his mother the last time he visited her because she was not wearing a veil. "It was at that moment that I had a feeling that I had lost my son," she told a French newspaper.

In a recent letter from jail, Moussaoui apologized for the pain he had caused his mother, but he insisted he had nothing to do with the Sept. 11 attacks.

By the mid-1990s, Moussaoui had caught the attention of French counter-terrorism police, who placed him on a watch list of suspects.

Moussaoui later made his way to Afghanistan, according to a U.S. federal grand jury conspiracy indictment handed down Tuesday. The indictment, linking him to the alleged hijackers and Osama bin Laden, alleges that he trained in 1998 in a camp affiliated with Bin Laden's Al Qaeda terrorist network.

Two years later, using the name "Zuluman Tangotango" in an e-mail exchange, he inquired about flight training at Airman Flight School in Oklahoma.

In February of this year, he entered the United States with $35,000 in cash, authorities say, and made his way to the school in the college town of Norman.

It was there that the similarities with the 19 alleged Sept. 11 hijackers became evident.

Two of the hijackers, including suspected ringleader Mohamed Atta, had visited the same flight school a year earlier.

Like the suspected hijackers, the beefy, 5-foot-8, 200-pound Moussaoui took self-defense classes and began working out at a gym, in his case at the University of Oklahoma.

He also purchased flight training videos for Boeing jetliners, as did several of the alleged hijackers. And like Atta, he inquired about starting a crop-dusting business and how to spray pesticides, the indictment said.

In perhaps the strongest single link to the hijackers, the indictment charges that Moussaoui received $14,000 by wire shortly before the Sept. 11 attacks. The money, it said, was sent from Germany by Atta's former roommate, who has since disappeared and is being sought by authorities.

Despite what investigators claim are his many links to the Sept. 11 attacks, acquaintances in Norman said Tuesday that Moussaoui showed no signs of involvement in any conspiracy.

Often clad in a jogging suit and carrying a backpack filled with books, he spoke passable English and mixed in with students at the University of Oklahoma. Many assumed he was a student there, though it appears he never enrolled.

He was welcomed at the local mosque, where he introduced himself as "Shakil." He stood out as one of the mosque's most observant members.

"Very few of us make early morning prayer, but he was a regular," recalled Ibrahim Anderson.

But his rigid religious views put him at odds with some mosque members. "He had a coarse personality," said Anderson. "He wouldn't be pushed around easily."

He eventually washed out of the Norman flight school, and abruptly left town in August.

A friend drove him to Minneapolis, where he paid cash to attend another flight school. His odd interest in Boeing jetliner training prompted a call to federal authorities, who arrested him on immigration charges just weeks before the September attacks.

As world attention focused on Moussaoui this week, some friends were in disbelief.

"I was shocked," said Abdulqaadir. "I don't see him as a person involved in [this]."

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Times staff writers Bob Drogin and Sebastian Rotella contributed to this report.