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Archive for Saturday, August 16, 2008

Court tosses ‘millennium bomber’ sentence

August 16, 2008

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A federal appeals court on Friday threw out the 22-year sentence imposed on Ahmed Ressam of Algeria, the "millennium bomber" who had planned to set off explosives at Los Angeles International Airport during millennial celebrations.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco challenged the inclusion of an "aggravating circumstance" of Ressam's felony convictions that added an extra 10-year prison term for anyone carrying explosives when committing a serious crime.

Ressam was convicted of carrying explosives into the United States from Canada in 1999.

The court ordered the recalculation of his sentence.

It was the second time the appellate court scrapped the 22-year term for its inclusion of the extra 10-year prison term.

Among Ressam's nine felony convictions in 2001 was that of lying to a U.S. Customs and Border Protection agent when he arrived by ferry from British Columbia to Port Angeles, Wash., in December 1999 with explosives in his car.

Ressam, now 41, was also convicted of an act of terrorism transcending a national boundary, placing explosives in proximity to the ferry terminal, possessing false identification, using a false name, falsely identifying himself on Customs declaration forms and smuggling and transporting explosives.

The latter action compounded the felony of signing a Customs form with an alias, the Seattle district court ruled in determining his sentence.

Ressam was arrested at Port Angeles ferry terminal after a Customs officer became suspicious and searched his rented Chevrolet.

Officers found explosives in the trunk that were described during his trial as capable of bringing down small buildings and killing hundreds of people.

Because he cooperated with federal agents in tracking down other terrorism suspects, U.S. District Judge John C. Coughenour gave Ressam a sentence between the 35 years recommended by the prosecution and the 12 1/2 years sought by defense lawyers.

The sentence was challenged by both sides and was overturned in January 2007 by the 9th Circuit on grounds that application of the 10-year minimum for carrying explosives while committing a felony was too open-ended.

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