Another Y2K Terror Suspect Convicted

moktar Haouari courtroom sketch during closing arguments Wednesday, July 11, 2001, in New York terror trial
An Algerian national was convicted Friday of charges that he played a pivotal role in a failed plot to detonate a suitcase bomb at Los Angeles International Airport just before the new millennium.

A federal jury deliberated barely two days in the case against Mokhtar Haouari, who was accused of providing the plan's mastermind with phony identification and $3,000 used to purchase bomb-making chemicals as part of a jihad — a holy war against the United States.

The French-speaking defendant, who listened to trial testimony via an interpreter, was convicted of the top count of the indictment: conspiracy to supply material support to a terrorist act.

The Manhattan jury also convicted him of conspiracy to commit identification document fraud. But it acquitted Haouari of a third terrorism charge.

The proposed bombing at the crowded airport in the days before Jan. 1, 2000, was potentially the worst incident of terrorism in the United States since the 1995 Oklahoma City attack.

Haouari, a 32-year-old Algerian national who lived in Canada, could face up to 100 years in prison.

The prosecution case hinged on the testimony of two alleged co-conspirators: Ahmed Ressam and Abdel Ghani Meskini. Both were convicted for their roles in the plot, and prosecutors said they were brought together by Haouari.

Haouari became so enraged during Meskini's testimony that he smashed his head against the wooden defense table, knocking himself woozy. Earlier in the trial, Haouari cursed a prosecutor and denounced the attorney as a liar.

The bombing plot was foiled when Ressam was arrested crossing the Canadian border in a car with a trunkful of explosives on Dec. 14, 1999. Ressam, an admitted terrorist, agreed to become a government witness just three days before the trial began.

Prosecutors said that although Haouari didn't know the target of the bombing, he was aware that Ressam was on a terrorist mission, prosecutors said.

"The defendant played an important part in what could have been a terrible tragedy," prosecutor Robin Baker told the jury. She said the testimony, along with phone records, phony documents and bogus drivers' licenses, provided a "jigsaw puzzle" of damning evidence.

Defense attorney Daniel J. Ollen blasted the government for using terrorists and con men as their witnesses against Haouari. He charged that Ressam and Meskini were guilty of "tailoring testimony to fit the facts."

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