Convicted terrorist sentenced to 37 years
SEATTLE – An Algerian man whose sentence for plotting to blow up the Los Angeles airport around the turn of the new millennium was thrown out for being too lenient was ordered Wednesday to spend 37 years in prison.
Ahmed Ressam, who had trained with al-Qaida in Afghanistan, was arrested in December 1999 when a customs agent noticed that he appeared suspicious as he drove off a ferry from Canada onto Washington’s Olympic Peninsula. A resulting search turned up a trunk full of explosives.
Ressam’s capture, after a brief foot chase, prompted fears of a terrorist attack and the cancellation of Seattle’s New Year’s Eve fireworks.
U.S. District Judge John C. Coughenour had twice ordered him to serve 22-year terms, but both times the sentences were rejected on appeal.
This time, Ressam’s attorneys conceded that he should face at least three decades to satisfy the appeals courts, but no more than 34 years.
The Justice Department, which previously sought sentences of 35 years and of life in prison, recommended a life sentence again because of the mass murder Ressam intended to inflict.
“If Mr. Ressam had succeeded, it is likely hundreds if not thousands of innocent lives would have been lost,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Helen Brunner said
Prosecutors and defense attorneys said they would review the ruling, and neither indicated whether they would appeal.
Ressam’s case has been vexing because he started cooperating after he was convicted and was interviewed more than 70 times by terror investigators from the U.S., Canada, Great Britain, Spain, Italy, Germany and France. Information he provided helped convict several terror suspects; prompted the infamous August 2001 FBI memo titled “Bin Laden determined to strike in U.S.”; and contributed to the arrest of suspected Osama bin Laden lieutenant Abu Zubaydah, who remains in custody without charges at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
However, Ressam recanted all of his cooperation when it became clear that the prosecutors weren’t going to recommend that he serve less than 27 years in prison. That forced the Justice Department to drop charges against two suspected co-conspirators, Samir Ait Mohamed and Abu Doha.
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