22-Year Sentence for “Millenium Bomber” Deemed Too Light

Feb 15, 2010

A federal appeals court last week threw out the 22-year prison sentence imposed in 2005 on Ahmed Ressam, known as the Millennium Bomber, who plotted to set off explosives at Los Angeles International Airport on New Year’s Eve in 1999. The court said the sentence was too light.

A three-judge panel of the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, in San Francisco, said Mr. Ressam did not deserve the “substantial reduction” in his sentence from the minimum of 65 years in federal sentencing guidelines because he backed out of his agreement to cooperate with investigators.

The court also called for a new trial judge to consider the next sentence, because the federal judge who issued the original decision had already once declined to increase Mr. Ressam’s prison term.

Ressam was detained in Washington state in December 1999 when he tried to smuggle explosives into the U.S. on a ferry from Canada that he intended to use at the Los Angeles airport. After his arrest, Ressam agreed to cooperate with terrorism investigators, but he later reneged on that promise, the appeals panel said.

U.S. prosecutors said Ressam, 42, cooperated for two years but that his change of heart compromised at least two terrorist cases in the U.S., resulting in charges having to be dropped.

In its findings, the appeals panel said that U.S. District Judge John Coughenour (in Seattle), who imposed the sentence, had failed to consider the potential security consequences, because if Ressam had been released after 22 years, he would still have been only 53 years old.

The case can be found at: 2010 WL 347962 (9th Cir. Feb. 2, 2010)