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The FBI might have missed e-mails sent by Sept. 11 conspiracy defendant Zacarias Moussaoui when it examined computers he used weeks before the terror attacks, according to the trial judge, who is demanding detailed explanations from government investigators. Moussaoui, charged with conspiracy to commit terrorism and murder federal employees, said he was known on the Internet as “xdesertman” and used an account on Microsoft Corp.’s free Hotmail service, court documents showed Wednesday. The defendant, who is representing himself in court, had asked the judge weeks ago in a sealed request to force prosecutors to turn over any information they uncovered about the e-mail account. Legal experts said it was unclear whether Moussaoui sought the information to defend himself — by establishing an alibi, for example — or to determine whether the government might already have recovered incriminating messages from the account. In any case, prosecutors told the judge they could find no evidence of the e-mail account. Wading into the dispute, U.S. District Judge Leonie M. Brinkema expressed skepticism toward the government’s assurances. In an order made public Wednesday, she demanded that the FBI explain how it examined the computers Moussaoui said he used and explain why the FBI couldn’t find traces of the e-mail account. “We do not understand why an immediate and thorough investigation into the defendant’s e-mail and computer activities did not lead investigators to the … account, if it existed,” the judge said. She added, “A more detailed explanation from the United States is warranted.” Also Wednesday, Brinkema criticized as “impractical” a government suggestion to prevent Moussaoui from viewing online court papers produced by lawyers appointed to help him. She ordered that Moussaoui be given access from his jail-cell computer to a special Web site containing evidence and other documents related to his case, but cautioned that Moussaoui must not be allowed to visit other Internet sites. Brinkema’s rulings, rare pretrial victories for Moussaoui, were the latest setback for the United States in its war on terrorism. In the span of a single day, the government:

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