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Full prison term restored for 'millennium bomber'

The LAX plotter loses an 8-1 Supreme Court ruling. San Francisco judges voided nearly half his sentence.

May 20, 2008|David G. Savage | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court on Monday restored the full 22-year prison term for the so-called millennium bomber who had planned to set off explosives at Los Angeles International Airport.

The 8-1 decision upholds an extra 10-year prison term for anyone who carries explosives when committing a serious crime.

Ahmed Ressam, an Algerian native who was living in Canada, was arrested when he tried to enter the United States in December 1999. A customs agent stopped and questioned him as he left a ferry at Port Angeles, Wash. Later, explosives were found in his car.

He was convicted of a series of terrorism charges, including one that calls for a 10-year prison term for carrying explosives "during" the commission of a felony. The felony in this instance was filing a false report to the Customs Service.

Last year, the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco reversed this one count$file/0530422.pdf?openelement on the grounds that lying on the customs form was not related to carrying the explosives. In a 2-1 decision, Judges Pamela Ann Rymer and Marsha S. Berzon said Ressam's sentence must be recalculated. But the Justice Department appealed, and the Supreme Court spent little time in reversing the 9th Circuit.

In a brief opinion, Justice John Paul Stevens noted the 10-year prison term applies to anyone who carries "an explosive during the commission of any felony."

"It is undisputed that the items hidden in [Ressam's] car were 'explosives,' " Stevens wrote. "It is also undisputed that [he] was 'carrying' those explosives when he knowingly made false statements to a custom official," he wrote.

He concluded: "The statute as presently written requires nothing further."

In dissent, Justice Stephen G. Breyer said this reading of the law is too open-ended: It could allow a 10-year prison term for someone who has gasoline cans in his trunk on the day he files a false tax return.

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david.savage@latimes.com

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