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RESPONSE TO TERROR

Algerian Gets Prison in LAX Bomb Plot

Terrorism: Support of a millennium attack plan, thwarted in an arrest at the Canadian border, draws a 24-year term.

January 17, 2002|JOHN J. GOLDMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

NEW YORK — A federal judge, declaring that an Algerian man "created a grave risk to the safety and well being of the American people," sentenced him Wednesday to 24 years in prison for supporting a plot to bomb Los Angeles International Airport.

After stating, "No. I don't say anything," Mokhtar Haouari, 33, stood impassively while Judge John F. Keenan told him in a soft but stern voice that he must be punished severely "or else the law becomes a mockery and government becomes prey to the forces of evil and destruction."

In July, a jury found Haouari guilty of providing logistical support to two cohorts in the plot, whose leader, Ahmed Ressam, was captured in December 1999 at the border between the United States and Canada with a car containing explosives and timing devices in its trunk.

Ressam, who received training at two terrorist camps in Afghanistan from about March 1998 to February 1999, was convicted in Los Angeles and later testified against Haouari at the trial in New York.

Ressam admitted he was a member of a cell, based in Canada, that intended to launch a terrorist attack before the millennium.

During the trial, the jury heard testimony that Haouari, a Montreal shopkeeper, helped Ressam by giving him $3,000 in Canadian money and a bogus Quebec driver's license in another person's name.

He also agreed to provide a fake Canadian passport for Ressam to use after the suitcase bomb attack to escape to Algeria.

Ressam told the court during the trial that he revealed to Haouari that he was traveling to Los Angeles to do "a job" and that Haouari comprehended the meaning of the statement.

He related that Haouari pledged to support the plan with money and other aid.

"The defendant played an important part in what could have been a terrible tragedy," Asst. U.S. Atty. Robin Baker told the jury, which deliberated for two days before finding Haouari guilty.

Also testifying for the government was Abdelghani Meskini, whom Haouari asked to travel from his home in Brooklyn to Seattle to help Ressam by providing him with additional funds and a cellular phone.

Meskini agreed and went to Seattle, but his trip was fruitless. Ressam never arrived because he was arrested at the border.

Evidence at the trial also showed that Haouari provided Meskini with bogus Canadian drivers' licenses and passports and that Meskini used the documents to commit credit card and bank fraud.

Meskini pleaded guilty on March 7 to charges including fraud and conspiring to provide support to Ressam's planned terrorism. He has not been sentenced yet.

During the brief sentencing procedure on Wednesday, Haouari wearing blue prison clothing, sat casually with his left arm draped over the back of his chair while his lawyer, Daniel Ollen, asked Keenan to "temper justice with compassion."

"Mr. Haouari either knew or consciously avoided details of Mr. Ressam's plan to blow up the Los Angeles airport," Keenan said before imposing the sentence.

The judge told Haouari that his activity was "reprehensible."

After his conviction in Los Angeles on April 6 on charges related to terrorism, transporting explosives and lying to government officials, Ressam agreed to cooperate with prosecutors. He has not been sentenced.

On Dec. 12, 2002, another defendant, Samir Ait Mohamed, was indicted in the case. Prosecutors alleged he also helped Ressam and committed credit card fraud. He is being held by authorities in Vancouver, Canada, pending extradition to the United States.

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