Convicted terrorist outlines Y2K plot, terrorism camps
By Phil Hirschkorn
NEW YORK (CNN) -- A man convicted in a New Year's 2000 bomb plot offered details Tuesday into plans that targeted a Los Angeles airport and what could have become an international millennium nightmare.
In court testimony Tuesday, Ahmed Ressam also offered details of terrorist training camps he attended in Afghanistan.
Ressam is testifying in the trial of Mokhtar Haouari, who is accused of aiding Ressam in the plot to detonate a suitcase of explosives at Los Angeles International Airport.
Ressam first met Haouari in 1994 after he immigrated to Canada with a fake French passport, settling in Montreal, he said, and they collaborated in various criminal activities in 1996 and 1997.
Ressam testified that he told Haouari the United States was being targeted because "it was an enemy of Islam and that if one is to carry out an operation it would be better to hit the biggest enemy."
Ressam said he chose LAX because he considered it a valuable economic and political U.S. target. He said he had landed there and was familiar with it. Because he was acting by himself, he said, he did not consider multiple targets. He said he planned to put his explosives into one suitcase that would detonate at a terminal.
Ressam never got that far. Instead, he was arrested two weeks before New Year's Day 2000 as he tried to drive from Canada into Washington state with a trunk full of explosives.
Ressam has yet to be sentenced. He faces a maximum sentence of 130 years for transporting explosives, but under a cooperation agreement with the government that could be cut to 27 years.
Witness outlines plans for 'very dangerous business'
Ressam said his preparations began in September 1999 when he bought electronic components for timing devices, which he made in his Montreal apartment. He purchased chemicals in Vancouver, including fertilizer and nitric acid, which he said could be mixed into an explosive.
In November of 1999, he said, he asked Haouari for money and documents. Ressam said that he did not tell Haouari the target of his trip "for security reasons."
"I said, Mokhtar, I am not going to America for tourism. I am going on some very important and dangerous business," Ressam testified.
He said that Haouari, without knowing the plot, told him he had a friend who spoke English well and could help him. That friend, Abdel Ghani Meskini, has testified that he flew to Seattle to meet Ressam in mid-December to deliver the cash and provide whatever help he needed.
Ressam said he told Meskini that in return for his help, he could arrange contacts to help him go to a "jihad" camp in Afghanistan.
Military training in Afghanistan
Ressam told the court that in 1998 he spent close to six months at such a training camp in Afghanistan, where he was instructed in the use of light weapons, handguns, machine guns, and rocket-propelled grenade launchers. He learned assassination techniques and how to make explosives. He also said he was schooled in urban warfare and sabotage.
Afghanistan's ruling Taliban Wednesday vehemently rejected Ressam's testimony that the country harbors terrorist training camps.
"The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan is not training any terrorists," said a Taliban statement. "The charges are trumped up to malign the Taliban government. Any statement made by the accused we fear may be under pressure and coercion."
Ressam said that in addition to airports, camp attendees were told to target electrical and gas plants, railroads, military installations, and large corporate buildings. They also were taught how terrorist cells operate in secrecy.
Osama bin Laden, leader of the group Al Qaeda, is known to have camps in Afghanistan, where the men recently convicted in the bombing of U.S. embassies in Africa were trained.
When asked who was supplying the weapons for the camps, Ressam said, "They used to buy it right from the Taliban," the extremist Muslim rulers of Afghanistan.
He said "fatwahs" -- a decree from Islamic law -- were issued while he was in Afghanistan in the summer of 1998, but he did not mention any by bin Laden targeting America. However, Ressam said he came across a fatwah issued from prison by Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman, the blind Egyptian cleric serving a life sentence for the foiled plot blow up New York City landmarks,
Ressam testified that before he left the camps there were discussions about international terrorist acts to be carried out before the millennium. Ressam said that his cell was to meet in Canada and rob banks to raise money for an operation in the United States.
"We wanted to carry it out before the end of 1999," he said.
Other cells from the camp were designated to carry out attacks in Europe and the Persian Gulf against the United States and Israel before the year 2000, he said.
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