- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 13, 2006

Jurors in the Zacarias Moussaoui trial listened yesterday to a recording of passengers twice charging the cockpit holding panicked hijackers during the final half-hour of doomed United Flight 93 on September 11, in the first public airing of the tape.

“Is that it? I mean, shall we pull it down?” one hijacker asked in Arabic 123 seconds before the 757 jetliner slammed into a Pennsylvania field with 33 passengers, seven crew members and four hijackers.

“Yes, put it in it, and pull it down,” another voice replied in Arabic.

In the remaining two minutes, more voices are heard than earlier, including some that say in English:

“Go. Go.”

“Move. Move.”

“Push, push, push, push, push.”

Then in Arabic: “Give it to me. Give it to me. Give it to me.”

Finally in Arabic: “Allah is the greatest. Allah is the greatest. Allah is the greatest. Allah is the greatest.”

Then only the roar of static.

The jurors couldn’t take their eyes off the video screens — even during long silent periods — as prosecutors used a multimedia presentation to try to put them inside the Flight 93 cockpit.

Slumped in his chair, Moussaoui watched intently.

The government rested its case for executing September 11 conspirator Moussaoui shortly after 17 jurors and alternates and 150 audience members in the Alexandria courtroom became the first people other than investigators and victims’ relatives to hear the only audible cockpit recording recovered from the four jetliners hijacked by al Qaeda in the nation’s most deadly terrorist attack.

Today, court-appointed defense lawyers will begin arguing that the 37-year-old immigrant to France, who was in jail in Minnesota when the attacks took place, played so small a role and had such mental problems that he deserves life in prison instead of execution.

A transcript, which translated Arabic into English and converted many nearly inaudible sounds into text, scrolled up the side of the screen. Synchronized with the text and drawn from the recovered flight data recorder, dials showed the plane’s speed, altitude and wing attitude compared with the horizon. Other indicators showed the autopilot, the steering yoke position and the plane’s trajectory.

Despite the detail and because the cockpit ceiling microphone can pick up sounds from the passenger cabin, particularly if the cockpit door is open, there were multiple interpretations of the final seconds.

Hamilton Peterson, whose father and stepmother died on the plane, said hearing an enhanced tape earlier had convinced him that passengers killed a hijacker guarding the cockpit.

“It’s an example of ordinary citizens on a moment’s notice stepping up and protecting the U.S. Capitol from a terrorist attack,” he said outside the courthouse afterward.

Captured September 11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed has said the Capitol was the plane’s target.

Some thought they heard the passengers struggling with hijackers for control of the steering yoke inside the cockpit during the final seconds. The September 11 commission’s study reached no conclusion about whether any hijacker was killed in the struggle with passengers and said the hijackers remained at the controls “but must have judged that the passengers were only seconds from overcoming them.”

Prosecutors also called Lorne Lyles. a Fort Myers, Fla., policeman whose wife, Cee Cee, was a flight attendant on the flight and played a voice-mail message she left him from the plane. She told him that her plane had been hijacked and that she knew a plane had flown into the World Trade Center.

“Please tell my children that I love them very much. … I hope to be able to see your smiling face again,” she said, crying.

Later, the judge rejected prosecutors’ request to display a running presentation of the names and photos of most of the nearly 3,000 September 11 victims. Prosecutors were instead allowed to show one large poster with the pictures of all but 92 of the victims.

Moussaoui pleaded guilty last year to conspiring with al Qaeda to fly planes into U.S. buildings. A week ago, the jurors ruled him eligible for the death penalty.

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