May 21st, 2009
03:59 PM ET
6 years ago

Obama team takes up '20th hijacker' meme

 Zacarias Moussaoui claimed to be the '20th 9/11 hijacker.'
Zacarias Moussaoui claimed to be the '20th 9/11 hijacker.'

WASHINGTON (CNN) - President Obama and his administration are using references to convicted al Qaeda operative Zacarias Moussaoui as the would be "20th hijacker" as they try to persuade the public the U.S. civilian court system can put on trial and imprison terror detainees.

"Zaccarias (sic) Moussaoui has been identified as the 20th 9/11 hijacker – he was convicted in our courts, and he too is serving a life sentence in prison," the President said in his speech discussing terrorism.

"The 20th 9/11 hijacker was tried in U.S. courts, and is in a U.S. prison right now," said senior White House adviser David Axelrod in an interview on "CNN Newsroom."

But U.S. officials for some time have not believed he was meant to be part of the actual plot.

In the first years after the 9/11 attacks, some officials did call Moussaoui - who was arrested a month before the attacks - the "20th hijacker."

U.S. officials eventually came to focus on a different suspect. They have believed for several years terror detainee Mohammed al-Qahtani was the individual meant to have been the missing hijacker on Flight 93, which had only four on board. In 2004, members of the commission investigating the 9/11 attacks said it was likely al-Qahtani was supposed to be included in the plot, pointing to the fact hijacker Mohammed Atta was at the Orlando, Florida airport in August 2001 when al-Qahtani arrived, as well as other classified information.

But al-Qahtani was prevented from entering the country by immigration officials. Later, he was arrested and sent to the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, where he was subjected to harsh interrogation techniques that were criticized in internal reports.

Moussaoui himself helped to push the idea when he signed letters to the federal judge overseeing his case as the "20th hijacker" and gave contradictory accounts in court about whether he was supposed to take part in the attacks. In the sentencing phase of his trial, Moussaoui testified he was training to fly in a fifth hijacked plane, but also said he didn't know when the 9/11 attacks were supposed to occur.

Testimony from senior al Qaeda operatives was later introduced saying Moussaoui was not intended to be part of the hijackings and described as mentally unstable.

pleading guilty in June of 2005 to terrorism charges, including being part of the 9/11 conspiracy by lying to investigators about his knowledge of al Qaeda, Moussaoui was sentenced the next year to a life sentence.


Filed under: President Obama
soundoff (60 Responses)
  1. Kim- GA

    The whole entire argument that American s are better than Cubans so for some reason we should not have terrorists in our prisons is utterly ridiculous.

    May 21, 2009 05:14 pm at 5:14 pm |
  2. Jefe

    The argument against trials for those in GITMO is ridiculous. The radical right actually believes the plan is to take them out of GITMO and move them into neighborhoods throughout the United States. In fact, the plan is to hold trials, as per our law. I find it ridiculous that so many Americans believe the outright lies of the drug-addled, Anti-American subversive Rush Limbaugh.

    May 21, 2009 05:18 pm at 5:18 pm |
  3. donttreadonme

    Please move Khalid-Sheik-Muhammad to your local prison and have a local court provide the criminal trial! The media storm that follows will lead to dangerous attention.

    Are you dems so hyper partisan that you can't see that this attention will create targets for would be attackers. Maybe sniffit would like to volunteer to provide security.

    May 21, 2009 05:21 pm at 5:21 pm |
  4. Steph

    @TomL
    Yes, great solution. The system is working well, why change? Want to tell that to our military men and women who are now fighting against the people your wonderful GOP administration set free?

    May 21, 2009 05:23 pm at 5:23 pm |
  5. Teleprompter of the U.S.

    Please, yes, let's go back to the strategy of the 90s that culminated in a 9/11/2001 attack on the U.S.

    May 21, 2009 05:24 pm at 5:24 pm |
  6. Mississippi Mike

    Who cares? Trials for enemy combatants should take place in military courts as they always have. There's no reason we should change a system that works well.

    May 21, 2009 05:24 pm at 5:24 pm |
  7. Jefe

    @The Broker: I hate to break it to you, but this, and many other members of "White America" are quite happy with President Barack Obama. Those of your ilk are the scaredy-cat, cowardly, low-IQ, low-income Neoconservative Anti-Constitutionalists whome this nation would be much better without.

    So on behalf of the 95% of "White America" who disagrees with your racist scumbag remarks, please try thinking before you type next time.

    May 21, 2009 05:25 pm at 5:25 pm |
  8. mike

    More people die in this country every year from domestic terrorism then all the foreign attacks put together.Do we spend 10 billion a month on that problem no.More people have died from religion ,than all the plagues and abortions since made was created,yet religion is embraced.The point is hypocrisy isn't a country its a disease.Look in the mirror before you point fingers.

    May 21, 2009 05:27 pm at 5:27 pm |
  9. Allen in Hartwell GA

    If our court and detention system can't handle trying and imprisoning the terrorists we are in real trouble.
    There are a lot of really mean murderers in our prisons. What have we done in the past to make the fear-mongers so warm and fuzzy?
    If we didn't want them as POWs we should never have captured them in the first place. In my war, Vietnam, we didn't capture a lot of prisoners and we sure as hell didn't have this problem.

    May 21, 2009 05:27 pm at 5:27 pm |
  10. Rob

    Who cares, Obama's just gonna apologise to him in time anyways.

    May 21, 2009 05:32 pm at 5:32 pm |
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