Lessons from the L.A. Airport Terrorist Plot

Ahmed Ressam sentenced to 37 years, but how many more are waiting to take his place?

The hit film Argo recalls the 1980 “Canadian Caper” that helped Americans escape Iran. The Algerian terrorist Ahmed Ressam, sentenced to 37 years in prison on October 24, recalls the ineptitude and indifference that allowed the terrorist, also known as Benni Noris, to escape detection in Canada, facilitating his plot to blow up Los Angeles International Airport.

According to an investigation by PBS’s Frontline, Ressam became a militant Islamist in the early 1990s after an Islamist party won the Algerian elections. Ressam left for France where he lived illegally for four years before departing for Montreal with a bogus French passport Canadian officials easily spotted, but which did not prevent him from remaining in Canada. Ressam requested political asylum and Canadian officials accepted his story without checking with France, Algeria, or Interpol.

In Montreal Ressam augmented his welfare payments by robbing tourists. He was arrested four times but convicted only once and, incredibly enough, served no jail time. In Montreal, Ressam also linked up with the Osama bin Laden network and the Algeria-based Armed Islamic Group (GIA), which hijacked an Air France plane and attempted to crash the Eiffel Tower. The GIA also bombed the Paris Metro and attempted to murder European leaders at a G-7 meeting.

A car bomb case near Roubaix gave French police evidence that led to Ressam’s Montreal apartment. French authorities asked Canada for a search warrant but Canada took six months to process the request. When Canadian authorities did attempt to deport Ressam, he adopted the alias of Benni Noris and easily eluded them.

Ressam left Canada for Afghanistan in 1998 and there Al Qaeda, according to Frontline, gave him “training in light arms – including machine guns and rocket propelled grenades – the use of explosives and poison gas, methods for assassination, sabotage, and urban warfare.” And consider the ease of travel outlined in the Frontline story:

Ressam traveled alone – on the Canadian passport under the name of Benni Noris – back to Montreal. He says that he brought with him chemicals and directions for making explosives. He flew from Pakistan to Seoul, South Korea, and then on to Los Angeles International Airport. It was this visit to the Los Angeles airport that provided him with the inspiration for his bombing target. He thought he could place a bomb, hidden in a suitcase, in the passenger waiting area. After surveilling the airport and calculating how long it would take security guards to check abandoned luggage, he caught a flight to Canada. Back in Montreal, under the name of Benni Noris, he signed a lease on an apartment and obtained a driver's license. CSIS [Canadian Security Intelligence Service] officials say during this period they were actively looking for Ahmed Ressam and were unaware of his alias.

Ahmad Ressam should not have been allowed to remain in Canada and should have been deported after his first robbery. His lenient treatment was not one of Canada’s plus brillants exploits but U.S. immigration officials also proved inept. They accepted Ressam’s fake Canadian passport, and failed to inspect the rented Chrysler in which Ressam had stashed 100 pounds of explosives in the wheel well. In Port Angeles, Washington, customs inspector Dan Clem searched the Chrysler and found the explosives. Ressam fled on foot but customs inspector Mike Chapman helped chase him down and police arrested the Algerian bomber.

In custody Ressam cooperated and his information helped convict a Bin Laden associate. But Ressam recanted all his cooperation when he did not get the deal he wanted, less than 27 years in prison. The Justice Department wanted life in prison for Ressam, who gets 37 years – nearly 13 years after his attempt at mass murder. In that time the Algerian terrorist has become fluent in political correctness, claiming in a letter to the court to be “against killing innocent people of any gender, color or religion.” Now who would do a thing like that?

“Look truthfully at yourselves,” Ressam’s letter said, “you will see how many innocent people you have killed under the guise of various slogans.”

Ahmed Ressam may be out of circulation but it is certainly possible that other Islamic militants are targeting Los Angeles. That city remains home to the U.S. movie industry. Islamists want the U.S. government to take away filmmakers' free-speech rights and punish the producer of “Innocence of Muslims.” So a sequel to Ressam’s attempt could well be in the works.

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