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Terrorist: Y2K defendant wasn't told plot details

Ressam
Ressam says he was not committed solely to bombing Los Angeles International Airport.  


By Phil Hirschkorn
CNN New York Bureau

NEW YORK (CNN) -- Convicted Algerian terrorist Ahmed Ressam testified Friday that Mokhtar Haouari, on trial for allegedly aiding Ressam's foiled plot to detonate a bomb at Los Angeles International Airport, was not told the details of the plan.

The government rested its case later in the day. The defense did not call any witnesses. Closing arguments will be Wednesday.

Ressam, 34, was the government's star witness against Haouari, 32, a fellow Algerian who is accused of giving Ressam cash and fake identification for his attempt to sneak into the United States on December 14, 1999.

Ressam met Haouari, a Montreal shopkeeper, after illegally immigrating to Canada in 1994. Ressam said they engaged in counterfeit check schemes, sold IDs stolen from tourists, and planned to open a grocery store to further credit card fraud.

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Besides charges of supporting a terrorist enterprise, Haouari is being tried for financial and document fraud.

Ressam told the jury this week he planned to set off the bomb around New Year's Day 2000, but he was arrested after fleeing a routine vehicle check at the end of his ferry crossing from Canada to Washington state. Officials found explosive chemicals and homemade timing devices in the trunk of Ressam's rented car.

Although Ressam testified the Los Angeles airport was his intended target, under cross-examination Friday he told the jury he was not committed to that.

"The idea was to go to Los Angeles, check out the airport and possibly change my target. If I find I am incapable of bombing the Los Angeles airport, I change my target," Ressam said through an Arabic translator.

map
Map found in Ressam's apartment showing the Los Angeles airport circled.  

Ressam was answering defense attorney Dan Ollen, who had asked why the map investigators found in Ressam's Montreal apartment had circles around three southern California airports -- Los Angeles, Long Beach and Ontario.

Ressam agreed to cooperate with the government after his conviction in April in order to reduce his prison sentence. Instead of a maximum of 130 years in behind bars, Ressam could be sentenced to as little as 27 years.

"You did not want to die in prison?" Ollen asked.

"That is correct," Ressam said.

He would be 61 upon release. Ressam was also tried on terrorism charges this year in France along with 23 others; he was convicted in absentia and sentenced to five years.

Ollen used his cross-examination to try to show jurors that Haouari was ignorant of Ressam's Y2K terror agenda and that his material support to Ressam did not amount to much.

"I did not tell him precisely and I did not give him the target," Ressam said.

Ressam said he consulted with other friends -- fellow veterans of Islamic militant camps inside Afghanistan, someone who fought alongside Muslims in Bosnia, and someone who participated in an airport bombing in Algeria.

"They did not know the details," Ressam said. Nor did Abdelmajid Dahoumane, who helped Ressam mix and pack explosive chemicals in a Vancouver motel room.

Ressam testified earlier he concealed the mission from Haouari "for security reasons," telling him only that he had "very important and dangerous business" in the United States.

Before his U.S. trip, Ressam said Haouari lent him $3,000 (Canadian), "as far as I can remember," and a made him a fake driver's license in the name of "Mario Roy."

Ressam never used the driver's license or a fake Algerian passport he asked Haouari to make for him so he could return to his homeland. Ressam planned to pick up the passport upon returning to Montreal after the Los Angeles bombing.

Another friend gave Ressam $3,500 (Canadian) at the end of 1999. Ressam came back to Canada in February 1999 with about $18,000 (Canadian) -- $12,000 (U.S.) -- seed money from his Afghanistan camp leader.

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Ollen asked Ressam why he would turn to Haouari, who had no "jihad" experience, to recommend someone to meet him Seattle and aid the bomb plot. The friend, Abdelghani Meskini, testified last week.

"I felt comfortable with him. I felt confident. I've known him a while," Ressam said.

Before leaving Montreal the last time, Ressam designated Haouari to be his contact for a man known as Abu Doha, a London-based operative who facilitated travel to Afghanistan.

"Just like that, Mokhtar Haouari becomes the point man in Canada for anyone that wants to go to a terrorist camp?" Ollen asked.

"I have trust in him," Ressam said.



Greta@LAW




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