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Alleged Y2K bomb plot accomplice on trial

NEW YORK (CNN) -- Jury selection began Monday in the federal trial of an Algerian national accused of being involved in a foiled Y2K bomb plot.

Mokhtar Haouari is charged with providing material support to a terrorist enterprise. Jury selection is scheduled to resume Tuesday. The trial is expected to last two weeks.

"He's passionate in his denial of being a terrorist," said defense attorney Daniel Ollen.

The bomb plot unraveled when Ahmed Ressam, 34, from Algeria, was caught in December 1999 while crossing the Canadian border into Washington state with a trunk filled with explosives and timing devices. In April, a jury found Ressam guilty after a month-long federal trial in Los Angeles.

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Prosecutors say Haouari, 32, a Montreal shopkeeper who had lived in Canada since 1994, was a facilitator of an Islamic militant cell known as the Armed Islamic Group, also known by its French initials as GIA.

Ressam is now expected to be a prosecution witness against Haouari, according to Ollen. Ressam's testimony could clarify the intended target of the bomb plot, which has never been publicly revealed.

Canadian investigators found a map in Ressam's Montreal apartment showing Los Angeles International and two other southern California airports circled.

Seattle canceled its New Year's celebration centered around the Space Needle after Ressam's arrest.

Testimony against Haouari was also expected to come from his one-time co-defendant, Abdel Ghani Meskini, 33, a fellow Algerian who pled guilty to his role in March and is now cooperating with the U.S. government.

Meskini previously testified against Ressam, saying Haouari ordered him to Seattle to meet Ressam after he crossed the border.

Police traced Meskini from a scrap of paper in Ressam's pocket with the name "Ghani" and a 718 area code telephone number; they arrested him in his Brooklyn apartment two days before New Year's 2000.

Meskini said he created fake passports and Social Security cards, obtained cash with fake ATM cards and forged checks, and shopped with stolen credit cards -- and implicated Haouari in the scheme.

Ressam trained in the Afghanistan military camps financed by Osama bin Laden, according to Canadian and French investigators, but during his trial U.S. District Judge John Coughenour forbade prosecutors to talk about bin Laden and excluded testimony that might have linked Ressam and other alleged conspirators to a global terrorist network.

Ressam and three of his former Montreal roommates are suspected of having links to GIA. The militant group is opposed to the Algerian government and is blamed for subway bombings and airplane hijackings in France.


Greta@LAW




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