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Jury selection begins in alleged millennium bomb plot

Ahmed Ressam  

LOS ANGELES, California (CNN) -- The Algerian national standing trial on terrorism charges was in a Los Angeles courtroom Monday as jury selection for his trial got underway.

The U.S. District Court in Seattle had granted Ahmed Ressam a change of venue to Los Angeles after defense attorneys argued that "fear fanned by the publicity surrounding Ressam's prosecution had triggered events locally (Seattle) that heighten the improbability of obtaining a fair and impartial trial in this district."

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As he listened through an interpreter to the questioning of prospective jurors during the morning's proceedings, Ressam appeared to be smiling faintly.

U.S. District Judge John Coughenour said he would screen jurors until there were 36 in the jury pool before allowing lawyers to use their peremptory challenges. Ten prospective jurors were questioned in the morning's opening session, two of whom were dismissed. One juror told Coughenour he feared the courthouse might be a target for terrorist violence and the other said she was biased in favor of law enforcement and the prosecution.

Ressam was arrested December 14, 1999 while trying to cross into the United States over the Washington state border. Authorities allegedly found bomb-making material in Ressam's vehicle during the border stop they have accused him of planning to use during millennial celebrations in the country.

Ressam reportedly was trained at a terror camp run by exiled Saudi millionaire Osama bin Laden. Bin Laden is blamed for several attacks on U.S. targets, including the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in Tanzania and Kenya. He is also accused of plotting the October 12 bombing of the USS Cole in Yemen that killed 17 U.S. sailors and wounded 39 others.

Extra security precautions have been taken at the Federal Courthouse in downtown Los Angeles. Extra police, metal detectors, and bomb-sniffing dogs were visible as proceedings got underway.



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