Flight Instructor Testifies About Brush with Hijackers A flight instructor tells Moussaoui jurors about his brush with two of the Sept. 11 hijackers. Daniel Pursell says Mohamed Atta and another man once abandoned a plane on a taxiway during their training. Prosecutors are apparently trying to draw parallels between the al-Qaida conspirator's flight training and that of the hijackers.

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Flight Instructor Testifies About Brush with Hijackers

Flight Instructor Testifies About Brush with Hijackers

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A flight instructor tells Moussaoui jurors about his brush with two of the Sept. 11 hijackers. Daniel Pursell says Mohamed Atta and another man once abandoned a plane on a taxiway during their training. Prosecutors are apparently trying to draw parallels between the al-Qaida conspirator's flight training and that of the hijackers.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

And I'm Melissa Block. The sentencing trial of al-Qaida conspirator Zacharias Moussaoui continued today. The jury must decide whether Moussaoui was responsible for any of the 9/11 deaths and whether he should get the death penalty. NPR's Laura Sullivan has been listening to witness testimony in the trial, and she joins us from outside the federal courthouse in Alexandria, Virginia. Laura tells us about who the jury heard from today.

LAURA SULLIVAN reporting:

Well it's been, it's been an interesting day and an interesting week at this trial. I mean it started of very rough for prosecutors. First, the FBI Agent Harry Samit says he wrote a 30-page memo to his bosses saying that Moussaoui was going to hijack planes. He sent 70 warnings to the bureau and all of his bosses ignored them. And then yesterday one of those bosses gets on the stand and says he never even read that memo, which is almost tragic because Agent Samit had laid out two of the charges that Moussaoui has actually now pled guilty to.

So today the government has done a little bit better. There was an FAA witness from the Federal Aviation Administration who testified about all the things the government could have done to stop the attacks. Including stopping knives at the airports, increasing security, doing better watch lists. The defense this afternoon countered that the FAA could barely do that after the 9/11 attacks, let alone before the attacks. So it's been an interesting day so far.

BLOCK: And I gather there have been some witnesses from some of the flight schools that the hijackers attended.

SULLIVAN: Yeah, there have been a number of witnesses who have had, you know, interesting stories to tell about the hijackers. One of the witnesses from the flight school said that she found hijacker Hani Hanjour very problematic, very difficult to deal with, and she even alerted the FAA to this fact. And the FAA did nothing about it. And he couldn't speak English well enough to have a pilot's license, and she was very troubled by this. Apparently the FAA agent said, well get him a translator, and that's not even legal.

BLOCK: So you've been hearing the story of what led up to 9/11 from people who are actually involved with some of the players in those attacks.

SULLIVAN: Yeah, and that's probably one of the most interesting things about this trial, is that for years we've heard so much from the 9/11 Commission, from Congressional investigations. And it was always very cumulative information, it was always testimony from the bosses, from the top officials. And this is the first time we've ever really seen the details. People on the ground like Agent Harry Samit from the FBI.

And, and today we even watched the video of the hijackers coming through the screening at the different airports. That hasn't been shown before, and how many of them actually did receive secondary screening on the day of the attacks, and yet were let onto the planes.

BLOCK: Laura I am puzzled by something. These are government witnesses, and it's hard for me to understand how, when a number of these witnesses are saying, look we were alerting federal authorities and they didn't do anything to stop what we thought was coming. How does this help the government's case?

SULLIVAN: So far it hasn't. The government's had a very difficult time with its government witnesses because they're trying to show that with just a little bit of help from Moussaoui, that he could've been the magic bullet that would've stopped the attacks. That the FBI and the FAA would've launched into action. And so far, all of these government witnesses have had a real problem on cross examination by the defense because there has been blunder after blunder from the FBI and the FAA.

BLOCK: And a lot of talk about missed opportunities.

SULLIVAN: Absolutely, and we saw that today from the witness from the flight school in Arizona, and then also when Mohamed Atta, one of the hijackers and another hijacker got stuck in the middle of the Miami International Airport with their airplane. The airplane breaks down. They get out of the airplane, leave it on a runway with a jet behind them, and the FAA never followed up to find out what exactly had happened.

BLOCK: Laura one last thing, what is the latest on the lawyer from the Transportation Security Administration who's accused of coaching witnesses?

SULLIVAN: That lawyer, Carla Martin, has been subpoenaed to appear in court on Monday morning. I spoke with her attorney today, and he said it's not clear how much she's going to be able to say. The last time she appeared in court, she was read her rights by the judge in the case. And she faces criminal and civil contempt charges. So it's unclear if she's even going to be able to testify, but the trial's continuing without her and the witnesses. And so it will be interesting to see what happens next week.

BLOCK: Okay thanks a lot. NPR's Laura Sullivan covering the Zacharias Moussaoui Trial in Alexandria, Virginia.

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