LOS ANGELES -- An Algerian accused of plotting to bomb U.S. cities during millennium celebrations was set up by a fugitive who bought explosives and planted them in the defendant's rental car, his lawyer said.
Defense attorney Jo Ann Oliver told a grand jury during opening statements Tuesday that Ahmed Ressam was not aware of everything that was in the trunk of his car when authorities arrested him Dec. 14, 1999.
Ressam was entering the country by ferry from British Columbia when authorities at Port Angeles, Wash., allegedly found bomb-making materials, including explosives and timing devices, in his rental car.
"Mr. Ressam was not a bomber and he was not a terrorist," Oliver said. "This is about a young man who fled war-torn Algeria ... a very quiet person, a religious person and probably a gullible person. These attributes led to his undoing."
Assistant U.S. Attorney Steven Gonzalez offered a far different picture of Ressam in the prosecution's outline of charges that include conspiracy and smuggling of explosives into the United States.
Gonzalez said Ressam knew what he was carrying or he would not have run through the streets of Port Angeles when authorities began searching his car, or ducked as materials were removed from the rental car.
The prosecutor said Ressam's fingerprints were found on timing devices and a piece of his hair was stuck to tape on the devices. He also suggested a chemical burn on Ressam's thigh happened while he was making a bomb.
Oliver said Ressam's credit cards were used to buy bomb components but suggested that was done without Ressam's knowledge. She blamed a fugitive, Abdelmajid Dahoumane, for planting the explosives.
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