The U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals on Tuesday overturned the conviction of the man who put LAX on the terror map, concluding that Ahmed Ressam was not given enough time behind bars for his plot to bomb the airport on New Year's Eve, 1999.
The man, who was caught driving a vehicle loaded with a bomb into the U.S. from Canada at Port Angeles, Wash. that December, later cooperated with authorities and admitted he had been trained by Al-Qaeda. After his conviction in Los Angeles he was given a 22-year sentence, which was half way between the defense team's request of 12-and-a-half and the 35 years recommended by federal prosecutors.
However, Ninth Circuit Judge Arthur L. Alarcón wrote that "Ressam's crimes of
conviction carry an advisory sentencing guidelines range of 65 years to life in prison, and a statutory maximum penalty of 130 years in prison."
The court voted 2 to 1 to have Ressam re-sentenced in Seattle.
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"We conclude that the district court committed procedural error in failing to address
specific, nonfrivolous arguments raised by the government in imposing a sentence that is well below the advisory Sentencing Guidelines range," wrote Alarcon.
Dissenting Judge Ferdinand F. Fernandez argued, however, that "due deference" should be given to a lower court's sentencing, even if the Ninth Circuit disagrees with a particular sentence. "It seems to me that the majority just does not like the fact that this terrorist is to sit in prison for a mere twenty-two years," he wrote.
Rassam's deed helped to put LAX in the cross hairs of Al-Qaeda, and some counter-terrorism experts believe the group will continue to aim for the airport, as it did with repeatedly with the World Trade Center in New York.