ALEXANDRIA, Va. (AP) – Proclaiming “I am al-Qaida,” terrorist conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui disrupted the opening of his sentencing trial yesterday and was tossed out of court as selection began for the jurors who will decide whether he lives or dies.

Sarah Royce
An artist rendering shows Zacarias Moussaoui gesturing in court. (AP PHOTO)

He disavowed his lawyers and pledged to testify on his own behalf in the trial that is to begin March 6.

An often volatile figure in his proceedings, Moussaoui was removed from the courtroom four separate times. “This trial is a circus,” he declared. “I want to be heard.” Of his lawyers, he said: “These people do not represent me.”

After jury selection, expected to take a month, a penalty trial will determine whether the 37-year-old Frenchman of Moroccan descent, the only person in the U.S. charged in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, will be put to death or sentenced to life in prison.

He pleaded guilty last April to conspiring to fly planes into U.S. buildings but claims he had no role in the Sept. 11 plot.

Moussaoui, who has vowed to fight for his life, entered the 10th-floor courtroom wearing a green jumpsuit, the word “prisoner” in white on his back. Short and slight with full dark beard, he calmly looked around at the prospective jurors as he entered.

The potential jurors – most of them white, from their 20s through their 50s or 60s – showed no reaction to his interruptions.

Brinkema told the jury pool: “If any of you feel that outburst or the way he conducted himself might affect the way in which you would go about judging this case, you need to clearly put that statement on the jury questionnaire.”

Moussaoui’s first outburst, a minute into the proceedings, became the pattern for the day as each new group of prospective jurors was brought in to answer an extensive questionnaire on their religious beliefs, cultural biases, group activities and much more. In afternoon appearances, he repeatedly vowed to testify.

“For four years I have waited,” he said. “I will tell them the truth I know.”

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