SEATTLE: An Algerian-born man was sentenced Wednesday to 37 years in prison for plotting to bomb Los Angeles International Airport around the turn of the new millennium.
Ahmed Ressam was arrested in December 1999 as he drove off a ferry from Canada into Washington state with a trunk full of explosives. 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.
The Justice Department had sought life in prison because of the mass murder he intended to inflict and because he recanted his cooperation with federal investigators.
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 signaled 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 cooperating 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 lieutenant Abu Zubaydah, who remains in custody without charges at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Ressam subsequently recanted all of his cooperation 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.