July 27, 2005

‘Millennium bomber’ Ressam gets 22 years in prison

By Reed Stevenson

SEATTLE (Reuters) - A federal judge on Wednesday sentenced
Ahmed Ressam, the "millennium bomber" convicted of plotting to
blow up Los Angeles airport, to 22 years in prison for
conspiracy to commit an international terrorist act, explosives
smuggling and other criminal counts.

U.S. Western District Judge John Coughenour had been
expected to sentence Ressam, who stopped cooperating with
federal authorities in 2003, to 35 years behind bars.

Prosecutors had asked for the longer sentence, saying that
Ressam's failure to work with them further jeopardized cases
they were building against other terror suspects.

Ressam, who will get credit for the more than five years he
already has spent in jail, did not speak at the hearing but
offered a slight smile as he shook hands with his attorneys and
interpreter after the sentencing.

"This period of confinement recognizes the seriousness of
the crimes and the cooperation of Mr. Ressam," Coughenour said
in sentencing Ressam, adding that he hoped the decision would
reflect the fairness and transparency of the U.S. justice

Ressam's earlier deal with prosecutors would have resulted
in a 27-year sentence in exchange for his testimony and
information about other cases.

"We're disappointed that the court did not accept our
recommendation of 35 years," U.S. Attorney John McKay told
reporters. The judge also imposed a 5-year period of
supervision after Ressam's release.

The 38-year-old Algerian was caught on the U.S.-Canada
border in December 1999 with nitroglycerin in the trunk of his
rented car, and he told authorities he planned to blow up Los
Angeles International Airport on the eve of the new millennium.

Ressam's lawyers had asked for leniency and a shorter
sentence, citing the 400-plus hours of testimony that Ressam
had provided since his arrest.

"He's relieved," said Thomas Hillier, the public defense
lawyer representing Ressam.

Hillier said that Ressam could be out of prison in as early
as 14 years with good behavior in prison and including time
already served.

Prosecutors said Ressam's failure to cooperate further was
"fatal" to other pending cases against terror suspects.

U.S. authorities were seeking to extradite Rachid
Boukhalfa, known as Abou Doha, a radical Muslim imam being held
in Britain, to stand trial for allegedly masterminding the plot
to blow up the Los Angeles airport. Doha's alleged
co-conspirator Samir Ait Mohamed was facing extradition from

"Without Mr. Ressam those cases in the United States will
not go forward," McKay said, "We're left wondering what else he

Ressam was convicted in 2001. He initially provided
testimony that was used in the briefing paper "Bin Laden
Determined to Strike in the U.S.," which was given to President
Bush on Aug. 6, 2001, ahead of the Sept. 11 attacks on New York
and Washington.

Ressam's sentencing for his conviction on nine counts,
including conspiracy to commit an international terrorist act
and explosives smuggling, comes amid heightened security in the
United States after the bombings in London's transit system
earlier this month.