Defense rests in millennium terror conspiracy case
LOS ANGELES (AP) – The defense called only six witnesses before resting its case Wednesday in the terrorism conspiracy trial of an Algerian accused of bringing bomb-making materials from Canada into the United States in late 1999.
Ahmed Ressam’s attorneys sought to counter government allegations by claiming he was an unwitting courier. Closing arguments were scheduled for Thursday.
Ressam, 33, did not testify. If convicted, he could face a 130-year prison sentence.
Ressam was arrested on Dec. 14, 1999, by U.S. Customs inspectors at Port Angeles, Wash., after explosive materials and timers were found in the trunk of his rental car. Authorities say the explosives were to be used in attacks on West Coast cities during millennium celebrations.
The prosecution rested Tuesday after presenting testimony about physical evidence and Ressam’s life in Montreal with other Algerian immigrants.
Prosecutors were not allowed to mention the name of Osama bin Laden or refer to terrorist training camps in Afghanistan after the judge ruled there was no evidence linking the defendant to bin Laden.The Saudi millionaire is accused by the U.S. government of masterminding 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in Tanzania and Kenya.
Two defense witnesses said Ressam apparently had plane reservations to leave Seattle for London the day after his arrest, suggesting he had no plans to use the explosives.
The defense also called a former FBI explosives expert who indicated the chemicals found in the car would have required further work by someone to create a bomb. Frederick Whitehurst also said that the absence of explosives residue in a motel room in Vancouver was unusual if the chemicals had been combined there, as the government alleged.
FBI Agent Fred Humphries, the lead investigator, testified that clothing Ressam wore at the time of his arrest was lost for awhile but was found recently in the custody of U.S. immigration authorities.
He said the clothes were not tested for traces of explosives at the time of the arrest, nor were tests done on Ressam’s hands. Belated tests done on the clothing after it was found uncovered only dried blood on the inside of a pant leg, he said.
Humphries said the tests were not done initially because there were so many bulk explosives that trace evidence was deemed unnecessary.
Ressam’s trial began with uncertainty about the whereabouts of a co-defendant, Abdelmajid Dahoumane. On Sunday, Algerian authorities said he was in custody and will face trial there on charges of participating in terrorist groups.
Ressam is also on trial in absentia in Paris in a case alleging he and others were in an international network that provided false passports and other documents to Islamic extremists. A verdict is expected there soon.
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