Moussaoui Testifies He Was to Hijack Plane on 9/11

People wait outside U.S. District Court to see Moussaoui trial i i

hide captionMembers of the media and the public file into U.S. District Court in Alexandria, Va., on Monday, where al-Qieda conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui took the stand.

Raul Moreno
People wait outside U.S. District Court to see Moussaoui trial

Members of the media and the public file into U.S. District Court in Alexandria, Va., on Monday, where al-Qieda conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui took the stand.

Raul Moreno
Courtroom drawing of Zacarias Moussaoui i i

hide captionA courtroom drawing shows avowed al-Qaida agent Zacarias Moussaoui testifying in Federal Court on March 27, 2006, in Alexandria, Va.

Art Lien/AFP/Getty Images/Getty Images
Courtroom drawing of Zacarias Moussaoui

A courtroom drawing shows avowed al-Qaida agent Zacarias Moussaoui testifying in Federal Court on March 27, 2006, in Alexandria, Va.

Art Lien/AFP/Getty Images/Getty Images

At a sentencing trial to determine whether he will be executed or sentenced to life in prison, Zacarias Moussaoui takes the stand and testifies that he and would-be shoe bomber Richard Reid were supposed to hijack a fifth airplane on Sept. 11, 2001, and crash it into the White House.

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

And I'm Michele Norris.

Zacarias Moussaoui says he was supposed to hijack a fifth jetliner in September of 2001. Moussaoui is the only person convicted in connection with the 9/11 attacks. He pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit air piracy and related charges.

Today, he took the witness stand in his sentencing trail over the objections of his defense lawyers. And he told the court that before he was arrested on immigration violations, he was supposed to take part in the 9/11 plot.

NPR's Laura Sullivan is at the courthouse in Alexandria, Virginia. She joins us now. Laura, tell us more about what Moussaoui had to say.

LAURA SULLIVAN reporting:

Well, Moussaoui took the stand and said he was supposed to fly a plane into the White House as part of the 9/11 plot. And he said that he was supposed to do this with shoe bomber Richard Reid, who was supposed to be one of his teammates in this hijacking. And this was, I mean, this is absolutely counter to everything that we have learned about Moussaoui over the past four and a half years.

We he had been told for a number of years and a number of motions in the court that he was part of a later plot, that he was crazy and not trusted by al-Qaida, but that he was never intended to be part of the September 11th plot. He took the stand and said that, in fact, that he was part of that plot and that his job was to fly a plane into the White House. He said he didn't know the dates, he didn't know the details, but he knew that there were two other planes going into the World Trade Center and that it was going to be a hijacking with suicide pilots and using small knives.

NORRIS: So, conflicting stories. What are we supposed to believe?

SULLIVAN: Well, his testimony was followed by the written testimony of Kali Sheik Mohammed, who was the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks and has since been in custody. Mohammed said that Moussaoui was not part of the 9/11 plot, but a later plot, which is where this original theory came from, that he was part of a second wave. He said that Moussaoui was problematic, that he didn't follow the rules.

And Kali Sheik Mohammed said that he was surprised at the measures after 9/11 and the war in Afghanistan, that he didn't expect that to happen. And that's why the second plot was then cancelled. But this was a pretty strong testimony to come after Moussaoui. They're in direct conflict with each other.

NORRIS: So at this point, is Moussaoui discredited as a witness?

SULLIVAN: Well, that's the thing. Moussaoui was so matter of fact, he was so calm. And he was so devastating to his own case. He said it doesn't matter what happens to him. It's his own, his destiny is up to God and that his duty was just to come and tell the truth. And he also hinted that he knew that what he was saying was going to have a worldwide audience, so that, in a lot of ways, maybe he was taking credit for it.

But it was so poignant when he was talking about how after the attacks he had heard the 911 emergency call from the flight attendant aboard the flight that, one of the flights that crashed into the World Trade Center and the flight attendant said into the phone, I don't want to die. And he said when he listened to that tape that he felt ecstasy. That he felt grateful to have been part of this plot.

NORRIS: So he said his destiny will be determined by God. For now, his destiny will be determined right there in that courtroom, this is a trial to determine whether he gets the death penalty or not. How might this affect the case?

SULLIVAN: Well, it's pretty, it's gonna be pretty difficult for the defense to recover from this. The prosecution has to prove that Moussaoui lied when he was arrested, and because of those lies, Americans died. And Moussaoui said that that's exactly what he did. He said that he lied on purpose about all the details that he did know about what he says he was supposed to take part in so that the plot would go forward. And that's exactly what the prosecution needs to show.

NORRIS: Laura, what was going on in the courtroom while Moussaoui was on the stand?

SULLIVAN: The courtroom was absolutely hushed. People were riveted by his testimony. The prosecutors were filled with confidence on cross-examination. They kept him on the stand for more than an hour. The defense was huddled around their defense table. At one point, defense attorney Edward McMahon just leaned back in his chair and was just shaking his head and looking at the clock, wondering when this was gonna be over, pretty much. And then the family members were right behind the defense and you could just see them on the edge of their seat, just looking absolutely riveted by what they were hearing.

NORRIS: Just very, very quickly, what happens next?

SULLIVAN: The defense is going to try to resurrect its case and show that the FBI and the FAA could not have stopped the attacks, but closing arguments are expected on Wednesday and the trial should go to the jury, this first phase of the trial should go to the jury on Thursday.

NORRIS: Thank you, Laura.

SULLIVAN: Thank you.

NORRIS: NPR's Laura Sullivan at the federal courthouse in Alexandria, Virginia.

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