Government seeks 45 years for would-be LAX bomber
Algerian Ahmed Ressam is seen in this undated police handout photo. Federal prosecutors on Wednesday, Dec. 3, 2008 will ask a judge to more than double the 22-year sentence he gave to an al-Qaida-trained terrorist convicted of plotting to bomb Los Angeles International Airport at the turn of the millennium. (AP Photo)
By Gene Johnson
SEATTLE — Prosecutors want to nearly double the original prison sentence of would-be millennium bomber Ahmed Ressam, saying he has stopped cooperating with them and still poses a "serious threat."
Ressam was sentenced to 22 years behind bars in 2005 for plotting to bomb Los Angeles International Airport during the millennium holiday travel rush.
On Wednesday, federal prosecutors planned to ask a judge to re-sentence Ressam to 45 years, citing the problems he has caused by halting his cooperation.
In recent years, Ressam has recanted statements he made implicating other terrorists, prosecutors said, and he doesn't deserve the leniency U.S. District Judge John C. Coughenour showed him. The original sentence has been vacated by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
"His decision to end cooperation raises the specter that he continues to pose a real and serious threat to the United States," prosecutors wrote in a sentencing memo.
Ressam, an Algerian national who received permission last month to ditch his lawyers and represent himself, has not filed a sentencing memo.
U.S. border guards in Washington state arrested Ressam as he drove a rented car packed with explosives off a ferry from British Columbia in December 1999. 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, he began cooperating with investigators, telling them about training camps he had attended in Afghanistan and al-Qaida's use of safe-houses, among other things.
The government acknowledges that some of the information Ressam provided was useful. In one case, it helped to prevent the mishandling and potential detonation of the shoe bomb that Richard Reid attempted to light aboard a flight in December 2001.
Ressam also testified against two co-conspirators, helping to convict them.
But by early 2003, Ressam quit talking. His lawyers insisted long periods in solitary confinement had taken their toll on his mental state; prosecutors argued that it was because they would not agree to recommend a sentence of less than 27 years.
Without his testimony, the Justice Department was forced to drop charges against two other co-conspirators, including one described as a top al-Qaida recruiter. In the past two years, prosecutors said, Ressam has recanted statements he made implicating two other men.
In 2005, when Coughenour sentenced Ressam, the judge essentially split the difference between what prosecutors and defense attorneys requested.
Both sides appealed the sentence, with the government arguing it was too light and Ressam's lawyers challenging his conviction on one charge.
The U.S. Supreme Court upheld the conviction in May, and the 9th Circuit sent the case back to Coughenour for resentencing in accordance with recent changes in federal sentencing procedures.