ALEXANDRIA, Va. -- Proclaiming ''I am Al Qaeda," 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.
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 United States 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 US 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 a 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."
Twice he declared his allegiance to Osama bin Laden's terrorist network. ''I will take the stand to tell the whole truth about my involvement," he said. ''I am Al Qaeda. They [his lawyers] are Americans. I'll have nothing to do with them."
US District Judge Leonie M. Brinkema ordered marshals to take him from the courtroom; he went calmly each time.
The questionnaire probes citizens' feelings about Muslims and Arabs, reaction to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, response to the deadly 1993 FBI face-off with Branch Davidians near Waco, Texas, attitudes toward flying, and even whether they belong to groups such as the Rotary Club or Kiwanis.
The survey is being used to help the judge and the lawyers select 12 jurors and six alternates from a pool of 500 people from northern Virginia.
Among the questions: ''Do you have any negative feelings or opinions about Muslims or people of Arab or North African descent?" ''Do you believe Islam endorses violence to a greater or lesser extent than other religions?"
Brinkema told the prospective jurors they have no sentencing flexibility except to decide whether he should be executed or imprisoned for life without chance of parole.
She said the case hinges on whether Moussaoui lied when interrogated before Sept. 11 and whether people died as a result. ''A death penalty case is an awesome responsibility," she said.