By Carol Cratty
An al Qaeda terrorist known as the "Millennium Bomber" for a failed plot to detonate explosives at Los Angeles International Airport received a new and tougher sentence on Wednesday of 37 years behind bars.
Algerian Ahmed Ressam, 45, had twice received a sentence of 22 years but prosecutors argued for a stiffer penalty and an appeals court agreed. The matter was sent back to the trial court in Seattle where U.S. District Court Judge John Coughenour tacked on the additional time.
Ressam was arrested in November 1999 by U.S. Customs inspectors at the Canadian border as he tried to drive a car carrying explosives into the United States. His plan was to bomb the airport several weeks later on New Year's Eve.
After his conviction, Ressam started cooperating with prosecutors. He identified other terror suspects and gave the government detailed information about the inner workings of al Qaeda.
But by November 2004, Ressam had stopped providing assistance, recanted some earlier statements and refused to testify in the trial of two terror suspects.
That led prosecutors to fight for a tougher sentence.
Coughenour said in handing down the tougher sentence that the cooperation Ressam provided from 2001 through 2004 was valuable and should not be ignored, but his offenses were extremely serious.
"The court is mindful of the brutal potential of Mr. Ressam's crime and sentences him in complete consideration of the harm he hoped to inflict on individuals and families in this country and around the world," Coughenour wrote in his sentencing order.
But the judge noted that Ressam had spent the past seven years alone in a cell and said a doctor who reviewed his case for the Bureau of Prisons concluded "he has been permanently and severely impaired by his prolonged incarceration in solitary confinement."
Coughenour said that from his observation, Ressam's mental state has deteriorated and said he may have stopped cooperating with the government as a "deranged protest."
Prosecutors wanted Ressam to be sentenced to life in prison but the judge said that would be too harsh. Ressam is to be deported to Algeria after he completes his prison term.