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Terrorist jury hears tape from Flight 93

By Michael J. Sniffen The Associated Press

ALEXANDRIA, Va. – Jurors in the Zacarias Moussaoui trial listened yesterday to a recording of terrified shouts and cries in the cockpit as desperate passengers twice charged panicked hijackers during the final half hour of doomed United Flight 93 on Sept. 11, 2001.

“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 in the greatest. Allah is the greatest. Allah is the greatest. Allah is the greatest.”

Then only the roar of static.

The government rested its case for executing Sept. 11 conspirator Moussaoui shortly after 17 jurors and alternates and 150 audience members 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-Qaida in the nation’s most deadly terrorist attack.

On Thursday, court-appointed defense lawyers will begin arguing that the 37-year-old Frenchman, who was in jail in Minnesota on 9/11, played so small a role and had such mental problems that he deserves life in prison instead of execution.

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, too, watched intently.

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 persuaded him 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 9/11 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 Sept. 11 Commission’s study reached no conclusion on 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.”

The 30-minute tape begins with a hijacker saying in English: “Please sit down, keep remaining seating. We have a bomb on board. So sit.” There follows several minutes of commands like: Don’t move. Shut up. Down, down, down, sit down.

Nearly six minutes in, a voice in English tells the passengers “We are going back to the airport and we have our demands. So please remain quiet.” The San Francisco-bound plane then turns over western Pennsylvania back toward the East Coast.

During a period of quiet, apparently unbeknownst to the hijackers, passengers with cell phones learn that jets have crashed into the World Trade Center. But the hijackers detect something is up. One says in Arabic: “The guys will go in, lift up the (unintelligible) and they put the ax in it. So, everyone will be scared.”

The transcript gives no further clues about the “unintelligible” object. But the Sept. 11 Commission says the hijackers may have killed or silenced a flight attendant by this point.

Four minutes later, the hijackers notice a fight in the cabin. One says in Arabic: “Let’s go guys. Allah is greatest.” After grunts and shouting, another says in Arabic: “They want to get in here. Hold, hold from the inside.” The hijacker pilot begins wagging the wings up and down, apparently to knock the passengers off balance.

Another minute of shouts in English: Hold the door. Stop him. Sit down. Much is unintelligible.

Then 30 seconds past 9:59 a.m., an enormous crash: metal against metal, glass breaking, plastic cracking. The Sept. 11 Commission theorized passengers used a drink cart to ram the cockpit door. More unintelligible shouting.

Seven seconds after 10 a.m., in Arabic: “Is that it? Shall we finish it off?”

Another hijacker, also in Arabic: “When they all come, we finish it off.”

Six seconds later in English: “I’m injured.”

Ten seconds later in English: “In the cockpit. If we don’t, we’ll die.” Followed quickly by a second loud crash of metal, glass and plastic rammed together hard.

The hijacker pilot is pushing the steering yoke forward and back, perhaps to throw the attacking passengers to the floor. The tail sags, sounding the stall alarm. Then the nose comes back down, silencing it.

Then just 123 seconds before the crash, one hijacker asks again in Arabic “Is that it?” A cacophony of new voices joins the shouting over the next two minutes. The plane rolls belly up and noses over, then crashes.

Prosecutors also called Lorne Lyles. a Fort Myers, Fla., policeman whose wife, Cee Cee, was a flight attendant on 93, and played a voicemail message she left him from the plane on 9/11. She told him her plane had been hijacked and 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 nearly all the 2,972 victims of Sept. 11. 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-Qaida to fly planes into U.S. buildings. A week ago, the jurors ruled him eligible for the death penalty even though he was in jail in Minnesota on 9/11. They decided that lies he told federal agents a month before the attacks led directly to at least one death that day by keeping agents from identifying and stopping some of the hijackers. Now they must decide whether he deserves execution or life in prison.

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