(CN) – An Algerian national, dubbed the “millennium bomber” after authorities foiled his plot to blow up LAX in December 1999, needs to be sentenced with public security in mind, a divided 9th Circuit panel ruled.
Seattle-based U.S. District Judge John Coughenour, who twice sentenced Ahmed Ressam to 22 years in prison after he tried smuggling explosives into the United States from Canada with the intention of detonating them at LAX, will not preside over Ressam’s sentencing again, the 9th Circuit ruled.
Ressam, who had ties to al-Qaida and who trained at a terrorist camp in Afghanistan, was caught before he could execute his plan. In 2001, following his conviction, he agreed to help the government by providing information about terrorist activities and targeted individuals.
He cooperated for two years before recanting his testimony.
Coughenour called Ressam’s cooperation in the fight against terrorism “extensive and valuable.”
He also admitted that it weighed heavily in his 22-year sentence, which the 9th Circuit viewed as inadequate in light of the attempted heinous crime.
The 9th Circuit has twice vacated and remanded the 22-year sentence because of what the panel believes is Coughenour’s error in failing to “determine the applicable sentencing guidelines,” and his decision to twice reject a recommended sentence of 65 years.
Appeals Judge Arthur Alrcon wrote for the 2-1 panel: “It is unclear what reason there is to reward a defendant at all for cooperation at the same time that the defendant is disavowing having intended to cooperate and loudly proclaiming that his statements should not be believed.”
Judge Ferdinand Fernandez wrote in his dissent: “It seems to me that the majority just does not like the fact that this terrorist is to sit in prison for a mere 22 years,” but that “22 years seems like a long time to me.”
Ressam would be 53 if released after 22 years.