Features

Prosecutors try to tie alleged terrorist to network

The Associated Press
Friday March 16, 2001

LOS ANGELES — Prosecutors in the case of an Algerian accused of a terrorist conspiracy on Thursday began laying groundwork to try to tie him to a worldwide network that allegedly aids Islamic extremists. 

But the U.S. District Court jury in the trial of Ahmed Ressam, 33, was not given an explanation of the various individuals whose names surfaced in testimony. 

Ressam was arrested Dec. 14, 1999, when he crossed the border from Canada to Port Angeles, Wash., in a car carrying explosives and timing devices. Federal officials say West Coast sites were to be attacked in conjunction with Year 2000 celebrations. 

Using videotaped testimony of witnesses speaking through translators, government attorneys introduced pictures of well-known figures in an Algerian community of refugees who immigrated to Canada and then spread out across Europe. 

A number of them are on trial in France on charges of criminal associations with a terrorist enterprise involving a fraudulent passport operation. 

Ressam is also on trial in absentia in the French proceeding, but the Los Angeles jurors were not told of the connections between the men whose pictures were flashed before them in benign settings such as restaurants where groups are seen smiling at the camera in social situations. 

Witnesses identified among them Fateh Kamel, a defendants in the French case, who acknowledged in the Paris trial last month that he met Ressam but insisted he did not know him very well. 

Kamel and Ressam allegedly trained in camps in Afghanistan and are suspected of links to Osama bin Laden, the exiled Saudi whom U.S. investigators claim was behind the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, that killed 224 people. 

Ressam’s fugitive co-defendant, Abdelmajid Dahoumane, also figured in testimony as witnesses remembered a time when he lived in a Montreal apartment with Ressam. 

But the witnesses, who testified in Montreal, appeared reluctant to give details of the Algerians’ relationships and said only that Ressam attended mosque with others, played soccer and often had coffee with his countrymen. 

One witness, Nabil Ikhlef, said he did not want to come to Los Angeles to testify “because of reasons of my security” and told of losing contact with Ressam for several years after they met in the mid-1990s in Montreal. In 1999, he said, they met up again in Vancouver. He was asked if he knew where Ressam had been in the interim. 

“I heard he was in Europe,” Ihklef said. 

The defense objected that the statement was hearsay. The prosecutor then suggested Ikhlef had been more forthcoming about it in a pretrial interview, saying he had talked to Ressam about his whereabouts. 

“Now that I have been sworn in I am not sure if I had that discussion,” said Ikhlef, 28, who did not provide any detailed personal history beyond immigrating from Algeria to Canada and being married. 

A Sudanese living in Montreal, Aboussian Adelrazik, said that he met Ressam at a mosque in Montreal and used to visit a friend who lived with Ressam. He said he stopped communicating with Ressam about two years ago. 

“I do not know anything. How would I know?” he testified at one point. 

The government also presented witnesses in person and on videotape to explain in minute detail how two men identified as Ressam and Dahoumane rented a motel suite in Vancouver which they occupied for nearly a month, paying in cash. 

Housekeepers testified that the men kept all the windows open in their suite even though it was winter and freezing. One maid said she smelled something funny in the room but could not identify the odor and that the men would not allow her to clean one of the rooms. When they checked out, they left behind an empty suitcase, a coffee grinder and a stain on a table top which appeared to be a burn. 

A Royal Canadian Mounted Police officer testified he went to a supermarket and purchased a jar of olives matching a jar full of explosives that was found in Ressam’s car. He showed the jury that the bottom of the jar matched the table burn mark. 

Prosecutors also sought to link Ressam to purchases at Canadian electronics stores that were used to make bomb components. 

Ressam was linked to the materials by credit cards issued in the name of his alias, Benni Noris, and signed in August and September 1999, a few months before he was arrested in Port Angeles. 

 

The credit card purchases included sockets, rolls of wire, integrated circuits, various types of glue, soldering equipment and circuit boards. 

Patricia May, manager of Active Electronics in Montreal, was shown a picture of the completed timing device found in Ressam’s rental car and said the only things in the picture that did not come from her store were a wrist watch and a miniature lamp. 

May said the purchases from her store were made in two visits in which the credit card user spent a total of about $300. 

The manager of another branch of that store said the same credit card was used to buy screws and cables on Sept. 3, 1999. Yves Gurin identified a screw on the timing device which he said came from his store. 

Neither manager was asked to identify Ressam in court because they did not handle the transactions.