Federal prosecutors said Friday they will appeal the 22-year prison sentence imposed on Ahmed Ressam, an Algerian convicted of plotting to bomb Los Angeles International Airport on the eve of the millennium.
The sentence that a judge handed down last month was significantly lower than the 35 years prosecutors had recommended.
In a statement announcing his plans to appeal, U.S. Attorney John McKay said the standard sentencing range for the crimes Ressam committed is 65 years to life.
"Ahmed Ressam plotted to kill hundreds of innocent Americans," McKay said. "His powerful explosives put lives at risk on the ferry Coho and in Port Angeles. We believe his actions warrant a sentence above 22 years, and that the district judge erred in imposing the sentence."
Convict could only have to serve 14 years
With credit for time served and three years for good behavior, Ressam could be out of prison in 14 years. He likely would then be deported or sent to France, where he has been convicted in absentia of terror-related crimes.
Ressam's lawyers, Thomas Hillier and Michale Filipovic, were unavailable for comment Friday, the U.S. Public Defender's Office said.
Ressam was arrested Dec. 14, 1999, as he tried to enter the United States at Port Angeles with explosive materials in the trunk of his rental car. Prosecutors said he had attended terrorist training camps in Afghanistan and was intent on bombing Los Angeles International Airport.
He was convicted of nine counts of terrorism-related charges in the spring of 2001.
Cooperating with authorities
Facing up to 130 years in prison, Ressam began cooperating with authorities, telling investigators from several countries about the operation of terrorist camps and the identities of potential terrorists and other details.
However, prosecutors said Ressam put their cases against his alleged millennium bombing co-conspirators in jeopardy when he stopped cooperating in 2003, citing the stress of solitary confinement.
When he sentenced Ressam, U.S. District Judge John C. Coughenour said the successful prosecution should serve not only as a warning to terrorists, but as a rebuke to anyone who would deny basic rights to terrorism suspects.
"We did not need to use a secret military tribunal, detain the defendant indefinitely as an enemy combatant or deny the defendant the right to counsel," Coughenour said. "The message to the world from today's sentencing is that our courts have not abandoned our commitment to the ideals that set our nation apart."