Millennium Bomber Got Off Too Easy, Says Panel

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A man who attempted to bomb LAX a decade ago received a too-lenient sentence, said a federal appeals court this week.

The three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals was divided, but rules that Ahmed Ressam deserved a longer prison term than he had originally received.

Ressam, a terrorist with links to al-Qaida, was arrested in 1999, and convicted in 2001, for crossing the Canadian-U.S. border near Victoria with a rental vehicle full of electronic timers, powders and liquids—materials that could have been used to make a powerful bomb. Ressam, who had been trained in Osama bin Laden-sponsored terrorism camps, intended to set off a suitcase bomb in the Los Angeles International Airport.

Ressam initially cooperated with federal authorities, currying favor in hopes of receiving a reduced sentence. After the attacks of 9/11, Ressam offered crucial information on al-Qaida operations in Europe and North America, and some of his intelligence led to the capture and prosecution of key terrorist leaders.

Two years later, however, he stopped cooperating. He was found by a court-appointed psychiatrist to have suffered a breakdown stemming from repeated interrogations and solitary confinement. At his sentencing, in 2008, Ressam denied all of the claims he had made to the United States government, claiming that the FBI and attorneys had put words in his mouth.

U.S. District Court Judge John Coughenour sentenced Ressam to 22 years, but this sentence has been deemed inadequate by the appeals court. A 72-page ruling written by Circuit Judge Arthur L. Alarcon criticized Coughenour for failing to address the arguments presented by federal prosecutors, wnad for issuing a sentence that did not meet guidelines, which would have indicated a minimum of 65 years.

The ruling also ordered that a different federal judge handle the re-sentencing, due to Coughenour’s “too entrenched” views on the case. The appeals court also indicated that the initial 22-year sentence failed to “protect the public.”

Coughenor had setenced Ressam earlier, in 2005, but that sentence was thrown out by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which said that the judge had failed to cite for the record the reasons why he diverged from applicable sentencing guidelines.

Ressam, an Algerian native who was recruited by al-Qaida operatives in Montreal, could be resentenced as early as later this month. The federal public defender representing him said that he plans to ask the appeals court to rethink its decision, and to petition the Supreme Court if necessary.

 

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