Ahmed Ressam (a.k.a. Benni Noris or the Millennium Bomber; born 05-19-1967) was convicted and sentenced to 22 years in prison in a plot to bomb Los Angeles International Airport on New Year's Eve 1999.
See also: ADX Florence
Ressam was born in Algeria. He entered Canada in 1994 with a forged French passport. When immigration officials at the Montreal airport questioned him, he applied for political asylum, claiming persecution in Algeria. After settling in Montreal, he became a small-time criminal. At some point, he was recruited into al-Qaeda. After not attending his hearing for political asylum, his application for refugee status was denied and a warrant issued for his arrest. He evaded deportation by obtaining a passport using a false name, "Benni Noris."
After allegedly speaking to Muezzin Raouf Hannachi, Ressam used the false passport to travel to the Khalden training camp in Afghanistan in 1998 along with his roommate Mustapha Labsi.
At the camp he is reported to have learned skills in weapons, explosives, and poisons.
Abu Zubaydah, on the other hand, the Registrar of the camp, testified before his Combatant Status Review Tribunal, that the camp only trained potential fighters for "defensive jihad", He testified that trainees were explicitly instructed they should only attack military targets, and that it was an offense against Islam to mount attacks that killed or injured innocent civilians. Further, he testified that Ahmed Ressam would never have been forwarded to the Khalden camp if he was thought to be a "takfiri" — someone who thought Islam justified attacking civilians.
Abu Zubaydah testified that he believed Ahmed Ressam became further radicalized after he graduated from the camp.
He left Afghanistan in early 1999 carrying the precursors for making explosives and planning to attack a United States airport or embassy. He returned to Canada, and continued making bomb materials and false papers. He made the decision to attack LAX as part of the 2000 millennium attack plots.
While in Montreal, he shared an apartment with Karim Said Atmani, an alleged forger for the Algerian Groupe Islamique Arme.
On December 14, 1999, Ressam boarded the M/V Coho at Victoria on Vancouver Island and entered the United States at the Port Angeles, Washington ferry landing. Canadian agents had been watching him for more than two years in Montreal. When he disappeared, Mounties traced him to a motel room in British Columbia where they discovered materials that could be used in making bombs. The Mounties then tipped off U.S. Customs officials of a potential bomb threat to them. Diana Dean was the U.S. border control agent in Port Angeles, Washington who decided to search the car of Ahmed Ressam, saying later that he [Ressam] looked "hinky". Ressam's trunk was full of explosives that he planned to use to blow up LAX on New Years Eve, 1999. Ressam was sentenced to 22 years in prison.
Travellers on this ferry route headed from Canada to the USA, at the time of the incident, would normally be pre-cleared by Homeland Security/United States Department of Justice agents in Victoria and later be inspected by United States Customs agents upon arrival at Port Angeles. Ressam was cleared by U.S. immigration in Victoria.
At the U.S. port of entry, upon noticing that he appeared nervous, Customs officers inspected him more closely and asked for further identification. Ressam panicked and attempted to flee. Customs officials then found a legitimate Canadian passport Ressam had registered under a fake name, nitroglycerin, the phone number of Abdel Ghani and four timing devices concealed in a spare tire well of his rented car. He was arrested by customs, and investigated by the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). He had shared a room in Canada with Abdelmajid Dahoumane, a suspected terrorist. A suitcase in the room which they lived in tested positive for chemicals used for making bombs.
Ressam began cooperating with investigators in 2001, and revealed that al-Qaida sleeper cells existed within the United States. This information was included in the famous President's Daily Brief delivered to President George W. Bush on August 6, 2001, entitled Bin Ladin Determined To Strike in US.
Ressam's testimony was used by the Guantanamo Bay Combatant Status Review Tribunal to decide that friends of his, like fellow Algerian Ahcene Zemiri, should continue to be held as unlawful combatants.
On July 27, 2005, Ressam was sentenced to 22 years in prison plus five years of supervision after his release.
The Seattle Times described Ressam's sentencing hearing as the "gripping climax" to Ressam's journey through the US Court system. Ressam was convicted in April 2001. But his sentencing was delayed, for four years, to give counter-terrorism analysts a chance to fully exploit him as an intelligence source.
The Seattle Times report said that Ressam had gone though several transitions. He had originally been cooperative, following his conviction. After the initial years of cooperation:
"Ressam underwent a second transformation to emerge as a silent, uncooperative prisoner who said he only wanted to be left alone and finally learn his fate."
Ressam didn't say anything during his sentencing hearing, but he did send the judge a note, where he apologized for engaging in the bomb plot.
Ressam's lawyer, Thomas Hillier, had argued that Ressam should be given a shorter sentence, to reflect the value of his original cooperation.
It is a flat fact that law enforcement, the public and public safety benefited in immeasurable ways from Ressam's decision to go to trial and (later) cooperate.
U.S. Attorney John McKay argued Ressam should get a 35-year sentence, because he had declined to cooperate in two cases which would now go unprosecuted.
According to the Seattle Times, United States district court judge John Coughenour, who sentenced Ressam, saw Ressam's sentencing as an "...occasion to unleash a broadside against secret tribunals and other war on terrorism tactics that abandon 'the ideals that set our nation apart."
The tragedy of Sept. 11 shook our sense of security and made us realize that we, too, are vulnerable to acts of terrorism, Unfortunately, some believe that this threat renders our Constitution obsolete ... If that view is allowed to prevail, the terrorists will have won.
On January 16, 2007, a divided panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in Seattle reversed his conviction on one of the charges and sent the case back to the district court for resentencing. The Supreme Court of the United States, however, overturned the Ninth Circuit in an 8-1 decision on May 19, 2008, and restored the original convictions and sentence.
Ressam's projected release date is currently July 6, 2019, according to the Federal Bureau of Prisons website
On April 16, 2007 the Summary of Evidence memo prepared for Abu Zubaydah's Combatant Status Review Tribunal, and the Verbatim Transcript from his Tribunal, were made public. Seven of the twelve unclassified allegations that Abu Zubaydah faced were based on Ahmed Ressam's confessions.
The Globe and Mail attributed the intelligence analysts' heavy reliance on Ahmed Ressam's confessions to a desire to have all the unclassified allegations against Abu Zubaydah be based on evidence that didn't rely on torture.