|MILLENNIUM PLOT Border guards arrested Ahmed Ressam as he drove a car packed with explosives off a ferry from Canada in December 1999.|
Terror suspect resentenced
Judge rejects prosecutors' bid for longer term
SEATTLE - Rejecting prosecutors' calls for a life term, a federal judge yesterday reimposed a 22-year prison sentence for a man convicted of plotting to bomb Los Angeles International Airport at the turn of the millennium.
An appeals court had told US District Judge John Coughenour to recalculate the 22-year term he gave Ahmed Ressam three years ago, but Coughenour kept the same sentence. Prosecutors earlier had sought a 45-year term for Ressam, but yesterday recommended a life term because they said Ressam has stopped cooperating on other cases.
Ressam told Coughenour that he recanted statements he made earlier implicating other alleged terrorists.
"I did not know what I was saying," Ressam said. "I have escaped my words, finally. . . . Sentence me to life in prison or anything you wish. I will have no objection to your sentence. Thank you."
Prosecutors said Ressam does not deserve the leniency Coughenour showed him in 2005. The original sentence was vacated by the US Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit early last year.
US border guards in Port Angeles, on Washington's Olympic Peninsula, arrested Ressam, an Algerian national trained by Al Qaeda terrorists in Afghanistan, as he drove a rented car packed with explosives off a ferry from British Columbia in December 1999. The ensuing scare prompted Seattle officials to cancel some millennium celebrations at the Space Needle, though investigators determined Ressam's target was a terminal at LAX, busy with holiday travel.
A jury convicted Ressam in 2001 of nine offenses, including an act of international terrorism, smuggling explosives and presenting a false passport. Hoping to avoid a life sentence, Ressam began cooperating with international terrorism investigators, telling them about training camps he had attended in Afghanistan and Al Qaeda's use of safe-houses, among other things.
Ressam also testified against two coconspirators, helping to convict them.
But by early 2003, Ressam had quit talking. His lawyers insisted long periods in solitary confinement had harmed his mental state. Prosecutors argued that it was because they would not agree to recommend a sentence of less than 27 years.
In 2005, Coughenour sentenced Ressam to 22 years, essentially splitting the difference between what prosecutors and defense attorneys requested.