LOS ANGELES – A terrorist who plotted to blow up Los Angeles International Airport on the eve of the millennium, now halfway through his 22-year sentence, will have to serve longer after an appeals court ruled Monday that the original punishment did not fit a crime that a judge said could have rivaled Sept. 11.
In a 7-4 decision, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the government’s appeal and sent the case back to a federal judge in Seattle for resentencing for a third time.
The court, which contains some of the nation’s most liberal judges, said Ressam’s plot to blow up the airport on New Year’s Eve 1999, was horrific and intended to intimidate the nation and the world.
Had Ressam succeeded, LAX’ may well have entered our vocabulary as a term analogous to the Oklahoma City bombing’ or 9/11,’ Judge Richard R. Clifton wrote for the majority. His clear intent was to intimidate this nation and the world, and he sought to influence world events and the conduct of the United States government through that intimidation.
Ressam, an Algerian national who had attended training camps for Islamic terrorists, was arrested Dec. 14, 1999, in Port Angeles, Wash.
He had a bogus Canadian passport but his nervousness after arriving on a ferry from Canada prompted a search of his rental car. Authorities found more than 100 pounds of chemicals, along with timing devices and other equipment, to make a fertilizer-derived nitrate bomb.
In April 2001, Ressam was convicted of nine federal charges, including smuggling explosives and conspiracy to commit a terrorist act. Sentencing guidelines recommended 65 years to life in prison, but federal authorities offered lesser sentences if he would cooperate in other terrorist cases.
He cooperated for two years but later recanted some testimony.
The federal judge who sentenced Ressam said he looked at several factors, balancing the harm Ressam planned with the good his cooperation had done in fighting terrorism. But the appeals court said U.S. District Judge John C. Coughenour in Seattle committed a clear error of judgment.