Millennium bomber sentenced to 37 years
Case dating to 1999 'provokes our greatest fears,' judge says of ex-Montrealer
Ahmed Ressam, an Algerian who lived for a time in Montreal, was sentenced today in Seattle to 37 years in prison for his role in the plot to bomb Los Angeles International Airport at the turn of the millennium.
Ressam was arrested in December 1999 in Washington state after his car, which had just arrived in the U.S. by ferry, was found to have a trunk full of explosives.
Wednesday's sentencing hearing in Federal Court was his third.
U.S. District Judge John C. Coughenour had twice ordered him to serve 22-year terms, but both times the sentences were reversed on appeal.
Ressam's attorneys had conceded that he should face at least three decades to satisfy the appeals courts, but no more than 34 years.
The Justice Department had been seeking life in prison, arguing he intended to cause a mass murder, and because he recanted his co-operation with federal investigators.
Arrested after foot chase
Coughenour said Wednesday that "this case provokes our greatest fears."
A customs official noticed that Ressam appeared suspicious when he drove off a ferry from British Columbia on Dec. 16, 1999, and signalled him to stop for further inspection. His arrest, after a brief foot chase, prompted fears of a terrorist attack and the cancellation of Seattle's New Year's Eve fireworks.
Ressam started co-operating 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 to convict several terror suspects, prompt a famous August 2001 FBI memo titled "Bin Laden determined to strike in U.S.;" and contribute to the arrest of suspected Osama bin Laden Lt. Abu Zubaydah, who remains in custody without charges at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Ressam subsequently recanted all of his co-operation when it became clear that the prosecutors weren't going to recommend that he serve less than 27 years in prison. The recanting forced the Department of Justice to drop charges against two suspected co-conspirators, Samir Ait Mohamed and Abu Doha.