He was shown hundreds of photos of suspected terrorists. He was questioned by the FBI and the RCMP, Scotland Yard, the Italian National Police, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, French judges, the U.S. Office of Naval Intelligence.
For two years, Ahmed Ressam, the al-Qaeda operative who was recruited in Montreal and assembled his bomb-making materials in Vancouver, was debriefed more than 65 times by intelligence and law-enforcement officials.
Then the Millennium Bomber clammed up. The cases against two terror suspects were dropped.
This led prosecutors to successfully appeal the 22-year sentence U.S. District Judge John Coughenour had given Mr. Ressam in 2005, saying it was no longer appropriate for an unrepentant terrorist.
On Wednesday, Judge Coughenour resentenced Mr. Ressam but would only extend his jail time to 37 years.
“Fear is not, nor has it ever been, the guide for a federal sentencing judge,” the judge said in his ruling. “It is a foul ingredient for the sentencing calculus.”
Mr. Ressam didn’t speak at the sentencing but in a letter filed in the court last week, he was defiant, saying he only co-operated because he was distressed and was now recanting his past statements.
“I did not kill any human being. … Look truthfully at yourselves, you will see how many innocent people you have killed under the guise of various slogans,” he said in an apparent jab at U.S. policies, according to the court translation of his Arabic-language letter.
Because of Mr. Ressam’s continued silence, the United States was forced to drop its extradition bid against another suspect, Samir Ait Mohamed, who spent more than four years in custody in Vancouver.
Mr. Mohamed was released and is now believed to be living back in his native Algeria.
Charges were also dismissed for Abu Doha, an Algerian under house arrest in Britain, who Mr. Ressam described as a cell leader in the Khalden training camp in Afghanistan.
Court documents also mention that investigators asked Mr. Ressam about an accomplice whose identity hasn’t been disclosed, a Calgary man who helped him get a fake driver’s licence.
Mr. Ressam spent about 205 hours in debriefings, in New York and Seattle, according to court filings.
He was was shown more than 500 photos of suspects and questioned about a range of terror suspects, from co-conspirators to Osama bin Laden, court records say.
He drew diagrams of training camps, told Canadian investigators about bomb timing devices and was asked about a forger in Islamabad, the documents say.
Mr. Ressam’s public defender had blamed his change of heart on his prison conditions, saying that he lost his bearings because for more than seven years he has been held in isolation at the Super-Max penitentiary in Florence, Col.
Defence lawyer Tom Hillier said Mr. Ressam has grown despondent because he is kept 23 hours a day alone in a small cell. “He lives in a world of concrete and steel,” Judge Coughenour noted in his ruling.
Even if he is released, the defence said, Mr. Ressam would likely be deported to his native Algeria, where he also faces imprisonment. And as a one-time turncoat, his life would be in danger, Mr. Hillier argued.
Once a failed refugee claimant and petty criminal in Montreal, Mr. Ressam spent a year in al-Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan.
He was caught on Dec. 14, 1999, as he drove off the ferry that took him from Victoria, B.C., to Port Angeles, Wash.
He later confessed that he was targeting Los Angeles International Airport. After he was convicted, he agreed in June, 2001, to help investigators.
With a report from Rod Mickleburgh