A jury heard a recording yesterday of the last frenzied, despairing moments of Flight 93, as passengers stormed the cockpit to prevent hijackers from crashing the United Airlines plane into its presumed target, the US Capitol, on 11 September 2001.
"Shall we finish it off?" the voice of one of the hijackers asks, amid sounds of a desperate struggle as the plane was about to begin its plunge into a Pennsylvania field. "Pull it down, pull it down," says another voice, in what appear to be the final instructions to send UA93 to its doom. Then there is heard only repeated cries of "Allah is the greatest, Allah is the greatest," before the 32-minute tape ends.
The tape was the climax of the case presented by prosecutors seeking the execution of Zacarias Moussaoui, the only person charged - and now convicted - in connection with the 11 September hijackings. Today, the defence will mount its last bid to persuade the jury not to sentence him to death.
But if yesterday's harrowing evidence - that left those present in the Alexandria courtroom drained - is anything to go by, this will prove an uphill task. Moussaoui did not help his cause, either. At times he smirked, at times he appeared bored. As proceedings were about to conclude, he shouted, "God curse you all."
As the tape was played, a transcript was shown on a large screen, with a translation of the Arabic spoken by the four hijackers, as they first commandeered the plane, then changed course towards Washington, only to be overpowered by the passengers who realised that a counter-attack was their only hope.
A separate video presentation simultaneously showed a mockup of the flight path of the plane as it sped towards Washington.
Jurors listened to other heart-wrenching testimony, including a phone message left on a home answering machine by one of the United flight attendants. "I hope to see you, I love you, Goodbye."
The cockpit recording leaves little of the horror of the moment to the imagination. "No more, please, please, please, don't hurt me. No more, no more," pleads a person, believed to be another flight attendant as she was seized and taken into the cockpit.
The audio began at 9.31am with a voice, believed to be that of Ziad Jarrah, the chief hijacker of flight 93 who took over as its pilot, telling passengers: "Ladies and gentlemen, this is the captain ... we have a bomb on board, so sit." For the next few minutes, passengers are told repeatedly in English, "Don't move," "Shut up" "Sit," and "Down, Down, Down."
But, all the while, the mutiny was growing, and the passengers began to gain the upper hand. "In the cockpit - if we don't, we die," one of them is heard saying.
A few seconds later, at 10.00:42 am, another voice utters the now immortal words "Roll it", apparently launching the final assault.
One hijacker, presumably inside the cockpit, is heard saying: "They want to get in ... Hold from within." Sounds of a struggle can then be heard. At that point, the plane appears to go out of control. There are sounds of the hijackers trying to shake off the passengers.
The plane pitches back and forth. Just before the end, a hijacker says, "Give it to me. Give it to me," probably a reference to the plane's controls. At 10.03 am the plane dives, there are crashing sounds, and the tape goes silent.
The one question is whether the prosecutors have overplayed their hand by offering more than a week of harrowing testimony.
The judge refused to allow them to show a roll call of the 3,000 victims of the combined hijackings.
Moussaoui was deemed eligible for the death penalty in the first phase of the trial, after he admitted he knew the broad outline of the al-Qa'ida plan but refused to give details to interrogators. Until then, prosecutors seemed unlikely to convince the jury of Moussaoui's responsibility for any of the deaths.
'When they all come, we finish it off'
(Bold text signifies English translation from Arabic)
How about we let the guys in? We let the guys in.
Should we let the guys in?
Inform them, and tell him to talk to the pilot. Bring the pilot back.
In the name of Allah. In the name of Allah. I bear witness that there is no other God but Allah.
The best thing: the guys will go in, lift up the... (unintelligible)... and they put the axe into it. So, everyone will be scared.
No, not the...
Let him look through the window. Let him look through the window.
Is that it? Shall we finish it off?
No. Not yet.
When they all come, we finish it off.
There is nothing.
Oh Allah. Oh Allah. Oh Gracious.
... in the cockpit. If we don't, we'll die.
Allah is the greatest. Allah is the greatest.
Is that it? I mean, shall we pull it down?
Yes, and put it in, and pull it down.
Cut off the oxygen.
Cut off the oxygen.