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LAX 'millennium bomber' to be resentenced; 22 years is too lenient, court rules

February 2, 2010 | 11:30 am

http://www.fbi.gov/libref/historic/famcases/ressam/ahmed_ressam.jpgThe 22-year prison sentence given to would-be Los Angeles International Airport bomber Ahmed Ressam is so lenient that it constitutes procedural error and failure by the Seattle judge who sentenced him to adequately protect the public, a federal appeals court ruled Tuesday.

A divided three-judge panel of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ordered the Algerian's case transferred to a different judge for resentencing, saying that U.S. District Court Judge John C. Coughenour failed to heed federal sentencing guidelines and a U.S. Supreme Court rebuke.

Ressam was detained in Washington state in December 1999 when he attempted to smuggle explosives into the United States on a ferry from Canada with plans to detonate them at LAX. He initially cooperated with interrogators and provided what Coughenour termed vital insight into the workings of terrorist organizations like Al Qaeda.

But Ressam ceased helping federal agents and retracted his statements implicating other terror suspects after being subjected to solitary confinement and what he considered interrogation excesses.

Coughenour twice rejected the federal sentencing recommendation of 65 years in prison for the terrorism conspiracy offense, a position the 9th Circuit panel said constituted procedural error. The judge also failed to consider the potential national security consequences for the U.S. public if Ressam were to be released after only a 22-year term, as he would be only 53 years old, the appeals panel said.

Ressam, now 42, has remained incarcerated the federal Supermax prison in Florence, Colo., throughout the legal appeals of his sentence.

-- Carol J. Williams

Photo: FBI

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