washingtonpost.com  > Business > Industries > Transportation > Airlines

U.S. Contests Terrorist's Request for Reduced Sentence

By Blaine Harden
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, April 27, 2005; Page A09

SEATTLE, April 26 -- Ahmed Ressam, convicted for planning to bomb Los Angeles International Airport during the millennium celebrations, has assumed two identities in court papers filed here in recent days.

To prosecutors, he is still the "heinous" terrorist plotter who hoped to set off a suitcase bomb in a crowded airport at a moment calculated to "wreak destruction -- on lives, on structures and on the nation." As prosecutors see it, Ressam, 37, deserves at least 35 years in prison.

His attorneys say Ahmed Ressam was a valuable informant about al Qaeda and merits less prison time.

"His sentence should be an unfaltering response to that heinous goal," said the government's sentencing request.

To defense lawyers, he is a terrorist-turned-informer who since his conviction has provided governments across the world a "historic" inside look at al Qaeda and perhaps saved lives in the process.

In a federal courtroom here Wednesday, U.S. District Judge John C. Coughenour is to weigh these incompatible personas before sentencing Ressam, the al Qaeda-trained Algerian who was arrested in 1999 at a Washington state ferry crossing with a trunkload of material used in making explosives.

After his arrest, Ressam provided information that, for the first time, "exposed in a meaningful way the existence of terrorist sleeper cells in the United States," according to Douglas W. Kmiec, a professor of constitutional law at Pepperdine University and a senior Justice Department official during the Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations.

Kmiec said that information from Ressam was often incorporated into presidential security briefings, including the controversial memo given to President Bush a month before the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, titled "Bin Ladin determined to strike in US."

Prosecutors acknowledge that Ressam provided valuable information for a couple of years. But they say he broke his pledge to continue to testify against accused terrorists and, as a result, is sabotaging two major federal prosecutions.

Defense lawyers paint a portrait of Ressam as a troubled man from a poor family who since his conviction in early 2001 has found meaning as an informer.

They say that after the Sept. 11 attacks, his firsthand knowledge of international terrorist networks was of "immeasurable" help to the United States, as well as the governments of Britain, Spain, Italy, Germany, France and Canada.

CONTINUED    1 2    Next >

© 2005 The Washington Post Company