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U.S. asks judge to allow cockpit tapes in Moussaoui case

From Phil Hirschkorn (CNN New York Bureau)

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ALEXANDRIA, Virginia (CNN) -- Federal prosecutors asked the judge presiding over the first U.S. case stemming from the September 11 terrorist attacks to reconsider her decision preventing a jury from hearing cockpit recordings from one the downed flights.

The tapes are a relevant part of the case and should be admitted as evidence, prosecutors said In a motion filed Tuesday.

In the motion, U.S. Attorney Paul McNulty disclosed what he said was new evidence linking defendant Zacarias Moussaoui with the alleged lead hijacker on United Airlines Flight 93, which crashed in a field in rural Pennsylvania.

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A telephone number Moussaoui called was found "scrawled on a business card" belonging to pilot-hijacker Ziad Jarrah McNulty said. That card was discovered by investigators at the crash site in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, according to the 13-page motion.

Prosecutors also said one of Jarrah's classmates from a Florida flight school will testify that one of the voices on Flight 93's cockpit voice recording is Jarrah's.

The struggle between the four hijackers and passengers that caused the San Francisco, California-bound flight to crash can be heard on the recording, according to family members who were allowed to hear the tape.

The government's motion argues that cockpit voice recordings from Flight 93, and from another plane that intercepted some of its communications, are relevant to the conspiracy charges against Moussaoui -- to commit terrorism, hijack airplanes and use weapons of mass destruction. According to the motion, "where a murder is alleged to have been committed or attempted in furtherance of the conspiracy, evidence of such acts are relevant to the conspiracy charge."

Moussaoui, 34, a French national of Moroccan descent, is in effect accused of training for hijackings, though he did not execute any part of the September 11 plot, which killed about 3,000 people at the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and aboard Flight 93. The crash of Flight 93 is mentioned in all six counts against him.

'No better evidence'

"The government will need to, and is entitled to, prove that Flight 93 was hijacked," prosecutors wrote. "There is no better evidence of the hijacking than the actual words of the hijackers during the course of the hijacking." they said.

Though they did not reveal what any of those words might be, prosecutors said "the tapes support the indictment's allegation that the hijackers were Islamic extremists."

U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema ruled two weeks ago that the recordings would have "marginal evidentiary value" in Moussaoui's trial. She agreed with defense lawyers assisting Moussaoui that the recording posed "unfair prejudice to the defendant," who is not accused of killing anyone on September 11.

start quote"There is no better evidence of the hijacking than the actual words of the hijackers during the course of the hijacking."end quote
-- U.S. motion in Moussaoui trial

Jury selection in Moussaoui's trial is scheduled to begin in December, with opening statements in January. He is representing himself, but attorneys have been appointed to assist him. If convicted, he could be sentenced to death.

Moussaoui was jailed in Minnesota on an immigration violation a month before the attacks. He was reported to authorities after arousing suspicions at a flight school, one of two he attended in the United States last year.

Moussaoui denies any role in the September 11 plot, but admits belonging to the Islamic terrorist group behind it, al Qaeda, and swearing allegiance to its leader, Osama bin Laden.

In addition to getting pilot training in the United States and paramilitary training in al Qaeda camps in Afghanistan, prosecutors allege, Moussaoui received thousands of dollars last August from one of the plot organizers in Germany, Ramzi Bin Al-Shibh, who was captured in Pakistan earlier this month and is in U.S custody.

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