Staff and agencies
Wednesday April 12, 2006
Jurors deciding whether Zacarias Moussaoui should be executed were today played recordings from the cockpit of one of the planes hijacked on September 11.
US federal prosecutors played a tape of the last 31 minutes in the cockpit of United Airlines Flight 93, which crashed in western Pennsylvania during the 2001 terror attacks on the US.
The recordings revealing the terror of the passengers after al-Qaida hijackers took control of the plane, one of four to be simultaneously hijacked. It was the first time they had been heard in public.
Two planes were flown into the World Trade Centre twin towers and another into the Pentagon, killing almost 3,000 people.
The recording began at 9.31am with a hijacker’s voice clearly stating: “Ladies and gentlemen, this is the captain … we have a bomb on board, so sit.”
For the next few minutes, passengers were repeatedly told “don’t move” and “shut up”.
The hijackers alternated between Arabic and English, and a translation of their Arabic words was provided to the jury. At one point, a hijacker was heard to say: “In the name of Allah, most merciful, most compassionate.”
A voice in the cockpit was heard saying: “Please don’t hurt me. Oh God.” A few seconds later, somebody said: “I don’t want to die.”
As the tape proceeded, it became clear that passengers were gaining the upper hand in their attempts to regain control of the aircraft.
A hijacker’s voice said: “They want to get in”, and the sounds of a struggle could be heard. At that point, the plane appeared to go out of control.
At 10.02, a hijacker said: “Give it to me. Give it to me.” At 10.03, the plane dived amid crashing sounds.
The last sound heard as the plane neared the ground was a voice saying: “Allah is the greatest.” All 44 people on board died.
As the jury heard the recording, prosecutors played a video presentation that simultaneously showed the flight path, speed and direction of the aircraft. It had been heading for the US Capitol, according to the September 11 mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammed.
Jurors have already decided that Moussaoui, an admitted terrorist conspirator and the only person to be prosecuted in connection with the September 11 2001 attacks, is eligible for the death penalty.
This phase of the trail is to determine whether he deserves it.
Even though he was in jail in Minnesota at the time of the attacks following immigration irregularities, the jury ruled that lies he had told federal agents a month before September 11 had kept them from identifying and stopping some of the hijackers.
Prosecutors must prove the victims suffered heinous and cruel physical abuse and that his acts resulted in “serious physical and emotional injuries, including maiming, disfigurement and permanent disability” to numerous survivors, and injured or harmed the victims’ families, friends and co-workers.
Moussaoui’s defence team is likely to claim that the jury should spare his life because of his limited role in the attacks, evidence that he is mentally ill and because his execution would only play into his dream of martyrdom.
During earlier court sessions, the 37-year-old French citizen at various times appeared distracted, animated and recalcitrant. He has thwarted the efforts of his defence lawyers to depict him as a deranged would-be terrorist.
Moussaoui said he wants to be executed to avoid a life sentence because it is “different to die in a battle … than in a jail on a toilet”.
The case continues.