LAX bomber gave significant help to US after capture
The would-be millennium bomber who crossed the border from Canada with a trunkload of explosive materials to blow up Los Angeles International Airport has instead blown holes in his former terrorist network, court documents and interviews show.
Since his conviction in 2001, Algerian expatriate Ahmed Ressam, 37, has provided information on more than 100 suspected terrorists, helped shut down clandestine Al Qaeda cells and exposed valuable organizational secrets of the global terrorist network.
Ressam's cooperation, his defense lawyers contend, has saved countless lives, including those of FBI agents who otherwise wouldn't have known that a sneaker they had seized from would-be shoe bomber Richard Reid contained a virtually undetectable but powerful explosive device.
Defense lawyers offered more details than prosecutors in their campaign to win a reduced sentence for Ressam. In one memorandum, they suggest that before Ressam began cooperating in the summer of 2001, U.S. authorities incorrectly focused on Osama bin Laden as the sole mastermind of all Islamic terrorist operations against the U.S.
"It is our understanding that based on Mr. Ressam's information, the intelligence-gathering community confirmed for the first time that the Afghanistan training camps did not operate under the sole authority of Osama bin Laden, but rather, involved a number of leaders and groups with similar objectives," defense lawyers said in documents arguing that Ressam's assistance warranted considerable leniency from the judge.
While acknowledging the value of Ressam's information, federal prosecutors complained that he stopped talking months ago. As a result, government lawyers told the court, they cannot proceed with high-profile terrorism prosecutions of Doha and a Canadian named Samir Ait Mohammed unless Ressam resumes his cooperation and court testimony.
Ressam started by naming specific terrorists in Al Qaeda and other groups, including some — like recently convicted Zacarias Moussaoui — whom he recognized from his stints at two training camps in Afghanistan.
One of those camps was supervised by Doha, who was in charge of sending Al Qaeda recruits to Afghanistan from Europe, Ressam said. The information was used by the Justice Department to indict Doha in the summer of 2001, the documents show.
Ressam told authorities how terrorist groups financed their activities, recruited and trained operatives, and maintained global networks of sleeper cells, his defense lawyers said in their court papers.
By midsummer 2001, Ressam began providing intelligence of a more general nature about how Al Qaeda was preparing an attack on U.S. soil, at a time when the CIA was insisting that all of its intelligence pointed to a strike somewhere overseas.
Ressam's warnings didn't say when or where such an attack or attacks would occur, according to court briefs, but they were credible enough — and sufficiently alarming — to be included in the now-infamous briefing paper given to President Bush five weeks before the Sept. 11 attacks.
It was Ressam's information that supported the briefing paper's title: "Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S."