Court: LAX terror sentence too light

March 12, 2012 at 6:12 PM
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SAN FRANCISCO, March 12 (UPI) -- A U.S. appeals court ruled 7-4 Monday the 22-year sentence given a terrorist who plotted to bomb Los Angeles International Airport was too lenient.

The opinion by U.S. Circuit Richard Clifton in San Francisco was a victory for the Obama administration, which argued the judge in Seattle who sentenced Ahmed Ressam, the "Millennium bomber," committed a reversible error.

"Ressam was convicted by a jury on nine counts of criminal activity in connection with his plot to carry out an attack against the United States by detonating explosives at the Los Angeles International Airport, commonly known and referred to by its airport code 'LAX,' Clifton said. "His plan was for the attack to occur on the eve of the new millennium, Dec. 31, 1999."

Using the advisory Sentencing Guidelines for Ressam's convictions, the district court calculated the sentence should be 65 years to life, and the government had recommended 35 years, but the judge sentenced Ressam to 22 years, plus five years of supervised release, for cooperating at least temporarily with U.S. investigators.

An Algerian national with links to al-Qaida, Ressam actively sought contact with terrorists and attended terrorist training in Afghanistan. He was caught trying to bring explosives in the wheel well of a car while entering Washington state from Canada.

"Because we are left with a definite and firm conviction that the district court [judge] committed a clear error of judgment in sentencing Ressam ... including by basing that sentence on several findings that were clearly erroneous, the sentence is vacated as substantively unreasonable," Clifton said.

The case was sent back to the trial court for resentencing.

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