Sentence struck down in millennium bomb plot

LOS ANGELES — A 22-year sentence was unreasonably lenient for al-Qaida-trained terrorist Ahmed Ressam, who drove a trunkload of powerful explosives into the United States from Canada with the intent of bombing Los Angeles International Airport on the eve of the millennium, a federal appeals court ruled Monday.

The 7-4 ruling by the full 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals sent the case back to a Seattle federal judge for resentencing with the recommendation that the Algerian-born prisoner be given a term more in line with federal sentencing guidelines that call for 65 years to life for the offenses for which Ressam was convicted.

Disputes in his sentencing have roiled the federal courts for more than a decade. The young Algerian, intercepted as he entered Washington state on a ferry from Canada, initially cooperated with U.S. counterterrorism agents, helping identify and convict other extremists.

U.S. District Judge John Coughenour, who oversaw Ressam’s 2001 trial and conviction on nine criminal charges, sentenced Ressam to 22 years in 2005, noting his contributions to the fight against terror.

The government appealed, and the 9th Circuit struck down the sentence on procedural grounds in 2008. The Supreme Court overturned the 9th Circuit, sending the case back to Coughenour, who again imposed the 22-year term. The 9th Circuit vacated that sentence two years ago, leading to Monday’s ruling.

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