Prosecution rests in millennium terror conspiracy case
LOS ANGELES (AP) – The government rested its case against an Algerian man Tuesday after more than three weeks of testimony that offered tiny pieces in a puzzle of alleged terrorism involving smuggled explosives and possible targeting of West Coast cities.
The prosecution case ended much as it had begun, with admission into evidence of key pieces of physical evidence – a guide book, fingerprints of defendant Ahmed Ressam and addresses and phone numbers in a datebook.
Ressam, 33, was arrested Dec. 14, 1999, by U.S. Customs inspectors at Port Angeles, Wash., when they found bomb-making materials and timers in his car after he arrived by ferry from Canada.
Jurors were shown guide book pages with pictures of the Los Angeles skyline and the Transamerica Pyramid in San Francisco and were told that Ressam’s fingerprints were all over the pages.
Jurors heard brief testimony from a French investigative magistrate but his account, which had been expected to connect the dots in the alleged terrorist network, was truncated by a judge’s ruling that he could not give his opinions.
The French magistrate, Jean-Louis Bruguiere, was on the stand barely 45 minutes and the defense did not cross-examine him.
Following the government’s announcement that it was resting its case, the defense moved for dismissal of several counts for lack of evidence. U.S. District Judge John Coughenour denied the request.
The defense, which opened its case with a brief videotape of testimony from a co-defendant’s brother in Canada, said there would be five or six witnesses on Wednesday and would conclude its case then.
Coughenour said the case could go to the jury on Thursday after final arguments.
The defense videotape of Kamel Dahoumane, brother of Abdelmajid Dahoumane, focused primarily on his whereabouts in December 1999. The witness said his brother was in Vancouver, British Columbia, but he did not know exactly when.
When he returned to Montreal, he said, his brother brought along gifts which were mailed to family in Algeria.
The prosecution had presented testimony that the smuggled explosives were manufactured in a Vancouver motel room before being brought over the border.
Abdelmajid Dahoumane is in custody in Algeria. A prosecutor there said Sunday that Dahoumane will face trial in that country on charges of belonging to and participating in terrorist groups. The prosecutor Algeria has no extradition agreement with the United States.
The weakest portion of the federal case in Los Angeles was prosecutors’ efforts to prove a widespread global conspiracy in which Ressam was supposedly a key player.
They were prevented from ever mentioning the name of Osama bin Laden or making any references to terrorist training camps in Afghanistan. Bin Laden is the Saudi millionaire accused by the U.S. government of masterminding bombings of U.S. embassies in Tanzania and Kenya.
The prosecution’s key witness, Abdel Ghani Meskini, gave jurors some hints of the connections between himself and other Algerian refugees but he said he had never met Ressam.
The prosecution told the jury during opening statements that it did not intend to prove specific sites were targeted, but noted evidence suggesting West Coast landmarks as well as airports in Los Angeles, Long Beach, Calif., and Ontario, Calif.
In an unexplained development, Coughenour told the jury not to watch the NBC-TV show ”The West Wing” on Wednesday night. The judge did not explain his order. The show about a president and his staff often deals with fictionalized contemporary events.
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