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Appeals Court Upholds Would-Be Terrorist's Sentence

Appeals Court Upholds Would-Be Terrorist's Sentence

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NEW YORK (AP) -- A federal appeals court endorsed stern sentencing guidelines for terrorism, upholding the 24-year prison term given an Algerian man convicted in a plot for a terrorist attack on the Los Angeles airport.

Saying it was deciding an aspect of terrorism sentencing guidelines for the first time in federal courts, the U.S. 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals on Monday said Judge John Keenan properly calculated the sentence for Mokhtar Haouari.

The three-judge appeals panel said terrorists deserved long sentences because of the special gravity of their crimes and the need to prevent them from attempting terrorism in the future.

Haouari, 33, who lived in Canada, was convicted in July 2001 by a Manhattan jury of supplying fake identification and cash to two associates who wanted to set off a suitcase bomb amid millennium celebrations.

Prosecutors said the planned attack on Los Angeles International Airport in the busy travel period leading up to Jan. 1, 2000, would have been devastating.

The plot was foiled when its mastermind, Ahmed Ressam, was arrested at Port Angeles, Wash., while trying to enter from Canada in a car full of explosives in December 1999.

Ressam had been trained in terrorist camps financed by Osama bin Laden. He was convicted of terrorism-related charges in Los Angeles and faces a potential 130-year sentence in March.

The appeals court said Congress and the federal sentencing commission "had a rational basis for concluding that an act of terrorism represents a particularly grave threat."

Among the reasons cited by the panel were the dangerousness of the crime itself and the difficulty of deterring and rehabilitating such people. Thus, the court said, "terrorists and their supporters should be incapacitated for a longer period of time."

Lawyers for Haouari had argued that sentencing guidelines for crimes linked to terrorism were unfair because "a first-time offender with no prior criminal behavior would unfairly receive a sentence roughly equivalent to that of a lifelong terrorist."

But the appeals panel wrote that "even terrorists with no prior criminal behavior are unique among criminals" in the dangers they pose.

At his trial, Haouari conceded that he was a long-time criminal, "a semi-retired con man ... a two-bit thief," and the court record indicates an extensive history of fraud, the appeals panel said.

The judges said Haouari's fraud schemes were similar to ones he used to support Ressam's terrorist plot.

Haouari arranged for passports and visas to assist the escape of Ressam and another man from the United States to Algeria, Pakistan and Afghanistan, prosecutors said.

Acording to evidence at trial, the the two men discussed the importance of holy war against the United States and the merits of U.S.-based terrorist bombings before Ressam made his trip.

Haouari was convicted of conspiracy to provide material support to a terrorist act and four counts of fraud.

Martin G. Goldberg, a lawyer who argued the appeal for Haouari, said he expected to ask the U.S. Supreme Court to hear the case.

(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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