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

Obama team takes up '20th hijacker' meme

[cnn-photo-caption image= caption=" 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. Char

    The Broker's comment

    WEAK!!!! If you are going to criticize, do it correctly!

    May 21, 2009 04:36 pm at 4:36 pm |
  2. ghost

    Send them to broker's neck of the woods. They way they feel about non-white folk, the terrorist wouldn't last a weak. ( misspelled that on purpose.....)

    May 21, 2009 04:36 pm at 4:36 pm |
  3. elliott

    He's NOT a criminal...HE'S A TERRORIST !!!
    He should be treated as such...not a criminal.
    We sure as hell don't want these guys in the US........

    May 21, 2009 04:37 pm at 4:37 pm |
  4. alvino

    It is time for the GOP to roll out the FEAR machine,

    May 21, 2009 04:38 pm at 4:38 pm |
  5. Char

    20th hijacker, hmmm.......... sounds familiar.............

    May 21, 2009 04:38 pm at 4:38 pm |
  6. elliott

    Get ready folks....Obama's going down....down the drain, along with Princess Pelosi, Reid, Biden, and all those more and more programs fail, and more dirt comes out about these slick commies....

    May 21, 2009 04:40 pm at 4:40 pm |
  7. Proud Member..Party of No, dumbocrats are such stooges. When Bush was president, Moussaoui was just a poor misunderstood man who was falsely accused by the "evil" Bush administration. Now that Barry H. has gotten himself into another pickle, Moussaoui is the dreaded 20 hijacker.

    May 21, 2009 04:41 pm at 4:41 pm |
  8. Sniffit

    For all their tough talk, it's pretty apparent that the GOPers are the ones who are the lilly-livered scaredy cats. Reality check: this "they're too dangerous to put in our prisons" nonsense is the GOP jousting at windmills...again.

    May 21, 2009 04:42 pm at 4:42 pm |
  9. Sniffit

    @ Proud Member, who said "When Bush was president, Moussaoui was just a poor misunderstood man who was falsely accused by the "evil" Bush administration."

    That's just plain blatantly false.

    May 21, 2009 04:44 pm at 4:44 pm |
  10. James from TN

    We house serial killers, muderers, pedaphiles, and all the rest of the ones who commit crimes but we can't house 250 ppl who are trying to kill any American. What a slap in the face for our military.

    May 21, 2009 04:45 pm at 4:45 pm |
  11. Ignorance

    Isn't Cheney the only one still saying Iraq had nuclear weapons when it has factually been proven otherwise?

    The case rest against Cheney and his truthfulness.

    May 21, 2009 04:48 pm at 4:48 pm |
  12. Steph

    So, you are fine with keeping mass murderers and child molester in the US? By the way...there are already terrorists in prison here in the USA. You didn't even know you were in such extreme danger for all of these years...flee, run, hide, panic!!!!!!!!!!! Oh wait, none of them have escaped. They are safely kept behind bars for life...but one in seven of the released detainees from Gitmo have gone back to fight against us. That puts our military men and women at more risk. Yup, keep 'em at Gitmo and quietly release them in the hundreds while only convicting three...much safer.

    May 21, 2009 04:49 pm at 4:49 pm |
  13. well...


    excuse me...

    The only reason that the Bush administration wanted to keep the Terrorists off American Soil in the first place was to Protect their Own A$$es Not the American People or Taxpayers.

    So please Republican Fear Machine stop blowing smoke Up Mine.


    May 21, 2009 04:52 pm at 4:52 pm |
  14. TCM

    I'm just waiting for Obama to make his daily TV appearance in the courtroom, and to humbly apologize to the terrorist for America being so bad.

    May 21, 2009 04:53 pm at 4:53 pm |
  15. Steph

    I'm still waiting for an alternate solution from the GOP. they think that keeping detainees at Guantanamo, convicting less than a handful and quietly releasing over 100 so they can fight against us is a great solution.

    May 21, 2009 04:55 pm at 4:55 pm |
  16. Kimberly

    Its insane that they think these idiots are too scary for our prisons. They are brainwashed LOSERS! They are pathetic outside of the religious loons in the middle east. We house men that rape children and kill entire families, but a guy that was fighting dirty in a war is too bad to be in our prisons....UNREAL to me!! Grow a pair GOP and STOP trying to act like Obama is making us less safe. If Obama was the one saying these guys are TOO SCARY for our prisons, the right would call him everything but black...You people are pathetic!

    May 21, 2009 04:55 pm at 4:55 pm |
  17. 1domino

    If this guy was really a hijacker shouldn't he have died in the crash? He might have helped plan it, but you can't accuse him of actually taking over the planes.

    And why the hell are people so paranoid and scared? He's one prisoner in a maximum security prison. Do they think other terrorists are going to break him out? That's doubtful. They seem do be more about dying than saving a life.

    May 21, 2009 04:56 pm at 4:56 pm |
  18. VICTIM of "Obama Victim"

    So what do these people think... that once they leave guantanamo that we are gonna process them through ellis island????

    what a stuuuuupid argument.

    as usual.

    May 21, 2009 05:01 pm at 5:01 pm |
  19. John, Brooklyn, New York

    The fact that we have the mess in Guantanamo in the first place is that the Bush administration decided that the rule of law, due process, and trial by jury are all inconvenient. Now, with Guantanamo an embarrassment in the eyes of the global community, Obama should be applauded for attempting to reclaim the status of the US as a protector of legal and civil rights.

    May 21, 2009 05:03 pm at 5:03 pm |
  20. Chick Deney

    The news about 1 in 7 detainees "returning" to terrorism assumes Cheney and Bussh weren't lying and were correct before when they captured these poor guys. Then they let them go, since they couldn't prove they were terrorists. So then doesnt that mean Bush and Cheney created these terrorists by unlawful detention at Gitmo? That's one among many reasons it has to go.

    May 21, 2009 05:04 pm at 5:04 pm |
  21. Sniffit

    Can't wait to hear what John "Manpampers" Boehner and Eric "Crybaby" Cantor have to say about their fear bomb getting defused by rational thought...

    May 21, 2009 05:06 pm at 5:06 pm |
  22. Robin in Tampa, FL

    What?!! You mean they had this guy detained for an ENTIRE MONTH BEFORE 9/11 and the Bush Administration just sat on their hands and did NOTHING. Wow ... absolutely shameful ... and now Cheney has the audacity to say Obama's not keeping us safe? What a schmuck.

    May 21, 2009 05:07 pm at 5:07 pm |
  23. Rich

    Rush Limbaugh was supposed to be the 20th hijacker. I heard it at the White House Correspondent's Dinner so it must be true. I remember a few months ago Ann Coulter had her jaw wired shut. If we could just do that to all the people like her and Rush Limbaugh and Dick Cheney, nobody's kidneys would have to fail. Besides, I don't think Dick Cheney has kidneys. He is a cyborg.

    May 21, 2009 05:11 pm at 5:11 pm |
  24. Proud DHS radical

    If Obama wants his terrorists out of Gitmo so badly, than just lock them up in the Cook County Jail. Wonder if shutting down Gitmo was a campaign promise to his middle eastern contributors?

    May 21, 2009 05:11 pm at 5:11 pm |
  25. Tom L.

    They are prisoners of war. They should be held until the war is over. The Republicans do have a solution...don't close Gitmo. Enough with the painting the Republicans as the party of "no" already. We lived through 8 years of the Democrats saying no to Bush. You are just being a complete hypocrite when you try and say the Republicans don't have any ideas.

    May 21, 2009 05:13 pm at 5:13 pm |
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