The man convicted of plotting to blow up Los Angeles International Airport on the eve of New Year's Day 2000 was sentenced Wednesday to 22 years in prison.
Ahmed Ressam received a lighter sentence than prosecutors had requested, reflecting his cooperation with international investigators about the workings of terrorism camps in Afghanistan.
But Ressam, 38, could have received a shorter sentence had he not stopped talking to investigators in early 2003. Prosecutors argued that his recalcitrance has jeopardized cases against two of his co-conspirators.
In sentencing Ressam, U.S. District Judge John C. Coughenour said he hoped to balance U.S. resolve to punish potential terrorist acts with Ressam's cooperation. He also said he hoped to send a message that the U.S. court system works in terrorism cases.
"We did not need to use a secret military tribunal, detain the defendant indefinitely or deny the defendant the right to counsel," he said.
Ressam, an Algerian, was arrested in Port Angeles, Wash., in December 1999 as he drove off a ferry from British Columbia with a trunk full of bombmaking materials. He was convicted of a plot to bomb the Los Angeles airport. Prosecutors recommended a 35-year sentence; Ressam's lawyers asked for 121/2 years.
Ressam could be out of prison in 13 to 14 years with credit for time served and potential reductions for good behavior. Then he would almost certainly be deported, public defender Thomas Hillier said at a news conference.
He said Ressam showed little reaction to his prison term. "He takes the news better than I do," the attorney said.
U.S. Attorney John McKay said he doubted Ressam would provide any more information in the future.
"What else he knew may not ever be communicated to us, and that's part of the price he paid today," he said at a news conference after the sentencing, Ressam had been scheduled for sentencing in April. After more than two hours of arguments, Coughenour called it off, giving Ressam three more months to resume cooperation.
Coughenour and federal prosecutors want Ressam to testify against his two co-conspirators, Samir Ait Mohamed and Abu Doha, who are awaiting extradition from Canada and Britain, respectively.
Information provided by Ressam in the past was given to anti-terrorism field agents around the world. In one case, he helped prevent the mishandling and potential detonation of the shoe bomb that Richard C. Reid attempted to set off aboard an American Airlines flight in December 2001, Hillier said.
During arguments, Hillier said the government's sentence recommendation was based on "self-serving, self-generated mathematics" that did not account for Ressam's cooperation.
"It is a flat fact that law enforcement, the public and public safety have benefited in countless ways" from Ressam's cooperation, he said.