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Moussaoui was a flight school washout

'He wasn't a good stick,' fellow student testifies

By Phil Hirschkorn
CNN

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ALEXANDRIA, Virginia (CNN) -- Zacarias Moussaoui couldn't keep a plane level, make turns or keep it on course up to FAA standards, his instructor at an Oklahoma flight school testified Thursday.

Government witnesses at the al Qaeda operative's sentencing trial have spent much of the past two days describing Moussaoui's poor flight school performance.

The jury will decide whether Moussaoui is executed or spends the rest of his life in prison for joining al Qaeda's conspiracy to crash hijacked planes into prominent buildings.

Moussaoui attended the Airman Flight School in Norman, Oklahoma, from February to May 2001.

Instructor Shahoaib Kassam testified Thursday that he found Moussaoui's skills "below average" after flying more than 50 hours with him.

Other students also recalled Moussaoui as a poor performer.

"That was a rumor around," said Pablo Hernandez, now a flight instructor himself. "He wasn't a good stick."

Moussaoui told Kassam he was training in the hope of becoming a private pilot for "wealthy friends in the Middle East."

He told other students that he had lined up a Lear jet job in Chicago or would pilot a private plane for a rich family in London, according to their testimony. None of the stories was true.

Moussaoui told Kassam, a Pakistani-born Muslim, that he ought to pray, like he did, five times a day, Kassam testified. Moussaoui later blamed Kassam for his failings, calling him "W.I." for "worst instructor," Kassam said.

"We grounded him," Airman admissions officer Brenda Keene told the jury. "We told him he needed to cease his flight training or pay more money."

Moussaoui said he needed to think about it.

"From that day, we never saw him again," Keene said

Instead, Moussaoui headed that summer to a flight school in Minnesota, where his actions almost immediately raised suspicion.

Moussaoui paid the bulk of the $8,300 flight simulator course fee with $100 bills.

With his cash payment and lack of experience, Moussaoui stood out from the beginning, testified Clancy Prevost, his instructor at Pan Am International Flight Academy in Eagan, Minnesota.

Prevost was assigned to give Moussaoui a classroom presentation on the Boeing 747 cockpit. It didn't take long for Prevost to realize it was a waste of time.

"He had no frame of reference whatsoever with a commercial airliner," Prevost testified. "After 15 minutes I said, 'Let's get lunch.' "

At lunch, Prevost said, Moussaoui rebuked him for asking about Islam.

Prevost said he asked Moussaoui, "Are you Muslim?"

"I am nothing!" Moussaoui answered, raising his voice.

Prevost said that's when it struck him that the school ought not to be helping Moussaoui achieve his stated goal of learning to fly from London's Heathrow Airport to John F. Kennedy Airport in New York City.

By the second day of instruction, Prevost urged the flight school's managers to conduct a background check on his student.

"We don't know anything about this guy, and we're teaching him how to throw the switches on a 747," Prevost recalled saying.

After hearing Prevost's anecdotes, Pan Am program managers Tim Nelson and Hugh Sims made separate calls on August 15 to the FBI's Minnesota field office, and Moussaoui was arrested. He was initially held on an immigration violation.

Moussaoui was indicted in December 2001, and last April admitted to taking part in the al Qaeda conspiracy to crash planes into buildings in the United States.

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