Sen­tence re­manded in ’99 L.A. bomb plot

The Washington Times Daily - - Nation - BY ROBERT JABLON

LOS AN­GE­LES | Call­ing it un­rea­son­ably le­nient, a fed­eral ap­peals court on Mon­day over­turned a 22-year prison sen­tence for “mil­len­nium bomber” Ahmed Res­sam, who was stopped with a car­load of ex­plo­sive ma­te­ri­als be­fore he could kill peo­ple at Los An­ge­les In­ter­na­tional Air­port in 1999.

In a 7-4 split decision, the 9th U.S. Cir­cuit Court of Ap­peals ruled in fa­vor of the gov­ern­ment’s ap­peal and sent the case back to a fed­eral judge in Seat­tle for re­sen­tenc­ing for a third time.

The court, which con­tains some of the na­tion’s most lib­eral judges, said that Res­sam’s plot to blow up the air­port on New Year’s Eve 1999, was “hor­rific” and in­tended to in­tim­i­date the na­tion and the world.

“Had Res­sam suc­ceeded, ‘LAX’ may well have en­tered our vo­cab­u­lary as a term anal­o­gous to ‘the Ok­la­homa City bomb­ing’ or ‘9/11,’ ” ac­cord­ing to a ma­jor­ity decision writ­ten by Judge Richard R. Clifton.

Res­sam, an Al­ge­rian na­tional who had at­tended train­ing camps for Is­lamic ter­ror­ists, was ar­rested Dec. 14, 1999, in Port An­ge­les, Wash.

He had a bo­gus Cana­dian pass­port, but his ner­vous­ness af­ter ar­riv­ing on a ferry from Canada prompted a search of his rental car. Au­thor­i­ties found more than 100 pounds of chem­i­cals, along with tim­ing de­vices and other equip­ment, to make a fer­til­izer-de­rived ni­trate bomb.

In April 2001, Res­sam was con­victed of nine fed­eral charges, in­clud­ing smug­gling ex­plo­sives and con­spir­acy to com­mit a ter­ror­ist act.

Sen­tenc­ing guide­lines rec­om­mended 65 years to life in prison, but fed­eral au­thor­i­ties of­fered lesser sen­tences if he would co­op­er­ate in other ter­ror­ist cases.

He co­op­er­ated for two years, but later re­canted some tes­ti­mony.

The fed­eral judge who sen­tenced Res­sam said he looked at sev­eral fac­tors, bal­anc­ing the harm Res­sam planned with the good his co­op­er­a­tion had done in fight­ing ter­ror­ism. But the ap­peals court said U.S. Dis­trict Judge John C. Coughenour in Seat­tle com­mit­ted a “clear er­ror of judg­ment.”

“We ac­knowl­edge that 22 years is not a triv­ial pe­riod of time,” but it is decades shorter than the rec­om­mended sen­tence from fed­eral guide­lines, said the judges in the ma­jor­ity opin­ion.

“Res­sam demon­strated strongly held be­liefs and a will­ing­ness to at­tack Amer­i­can in­ter­ests. If and when he is re­leased, he could try again to blow up LAX or to launch some other at­tack,” ac­cord­ing to the decision.

The case now re­turns to Seat­tle for re­sen­tenc­ing.

“Ob­vi­ously, I’m dis­ap­pointed that we have to go through an­other sen­tenc­ing,” said Tom Hil­lier, the fed­eral public de­fender who ar­gued the case be­fore the ap­pel­late court in Seat­tle. “It’s been a long haul for Ahmed. But when it comes to ter­ror­ism cases, there are some fairly strong opin­ions on what should be” the sen­tence.

He said the judge will have to im­pose a sen­tence longer than 22 years, but the ap­pel­late court did not spec­ify any spe­cific length.

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