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TerrorismMillennium plot terrorist sentenced to thirty-seven years

Published 26 October 2012

Ahmed Ressam, an Algerian native who set up a plot to blow up the Los Angeles airport in December 1999 in what came to be called the “millennium plot,”  was sentenced to thirty-seven years in prison on Wednesday; Ressam was arrested in December 1999 when a customs agent noticed him as he drove off a ferry from Canada onto Washington’s Olympic Peninsula; when authorities stopped Ressam and searched his truck, they found large quantity of explosives, and he was captured after a brief chase

Ahmed Ressam, an Algerian native who set up a plot to blow up the Los Angeles airport in December 1999 in what came to be called the “millennium plot,”  was sentenced to thirty-seven years in prison on Wednesday. The two most serious charges filed against Ressam were committing an act of terrorism across international boundaries, and carrying an explosive in the commission of a felony.

As the crime was committed before the 9/11 attacks, Ressam was not charged with committing an act of terrorism with weapons of mass destruction, which carries a life sentence.

The Boston Globe reports that Ressam, who trained with al Qaeda in Afghanistan, was arrested in December 1999 when a customs agent noticed him as he drove off a ferry from Canada onto Washington’s Olympic Peninsula. When authorities stopped Ressam and searched his truck, they found large quantity of explosives, and he was captured after a brief chase.

U.S. District Judge John Coughenour twice ordered Ressam to serve a 22-year term, but both times the sentence was rejected on appeal as too lenient. This time around Ressam’s attorneys agreed that he should face at least thirty years.

The Justice Department recommended a 35-year to life sentence each time because of Ressam’s intentions to kill hundreds of people.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Helen Brunner told the court that “[i]f Mr. Ressam had succeeded, it is likely hundreds if not thousands of innocent lives would have been lost.”

Ressam declined to speak to the court on Wednesday, but has sent the judge letters saying that he is sorry for his actions and does not wish to harm anyone.

Prosecutors and defense attorneys said they would review the ruling but neither side gave any indication they would appeal.

Judge Coughenour noted during the sentencing that of the 4,000 to 5,000 sentences he has given out during his career, which spans thirty one years; this case was the only one he can remember in which the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit said he was too lenient. Nevertheless, Coughenour was sympathetic to their cause.

“This case provokes our greatest fears,” Coughenour told the audience. “Because Mr. Ressam planned this act of violence and took steps to carry it out, many, including the federal government, believe that Mr. Ressam is a continuing threat and he should never see freedom again. But fear is not, nor has it ever been, the guide for a federal sentencing judge.”

Ressam agreed to cooperate with authorities after he was convicted, and was interrogated seventy times by investigators from seven different countries. Ressam’s information helped capture several suspects, including Abu Zubaydah, a suspected lieutenant of Osama Bin Laden.

Ressam stopped cooperating when federal prosecutors recommended that he serve more than twenty-seven years in prison.