Terrorist's Port Angeles captors on 37-year sentence: 'Great news'
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Keith Thorpe/Peninsula Daily News
In this Dec. 23, 1999, file photo, U.S. Customs inspector Mark Johnson, at lectern, describes events leading up to the arrest of now-convicted terrorist Ahmed Ressam in Port Angeles . Johnson and fellow customs inspectors, from left, Danny Clem, Diana Dean and Mike Chapman took part in Ressam's Dec. 14, 1999, arrest.

By Rob Ollikainen
Peninsula Daily News

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PORT ANGELES — Two former customs inspectors who helped thwart Ahmed Ressam's terrorist plot in 1999 said the 37-year sentence he received Wednesday was a step in the right direction.

Ressam had twice been sentenced to 22-year terms, but those rulings were reversed on appeal.

The al-Qaida-trained terrorist was caught driving off the MV Coho from Victoria to Port Angeles with a trunk full of explosives on Dec 14, 1999.

Clallam County Commissioner Mike Chapman was then a part-time customs inspector when he chased down and shoulder-tackled Ressam, then 32, at the corner of First and Lincoln streets.

Chapman, who testified at Ressam's trial in Los Angeles, said the new sentence is “much more appropriate” than the 22-year sentence twice ordered by U.S. District Judge John C. Coughenour in Seattle.

“That is great news,” Chapman said of Wednesday's re-sentencing.

“This guy needs to be locked up for a long time,” Chapman said.

“We need to remember what he tried to do: He tried to come into our country and kill a lot of people.

“I appreciate the judge giving him an appropriate sentence,” Chapman added.

Ressam, 45, will be about 64 years old when he is released from federal prison after being given credit for time served since 1999.

“We forget what he wanted to do,” said Chapman, who had yet to run for county office when he sacked Ressam.

He is now seeking a fourth four-year team as county commissioner.

“I don't think we should ever forget that,” Chapman said

Another former Customs inspector at the port of entry that afternoon, Dan Clem, now a lawyer in Oklahoma, agreed Wednesday that the sentence was a positive move.

“The sentence is much better than the other two sentences of 22 years, but it's only 15 more,” Clem said.

“I'm pleased that it's more than the original sentence.

“I'm a little bit disappointed that it took three tries to get to this stage. He deserved more.”

At the sentencing hearing, Coughenour acknowledged that Ressam was “highly culpable and took substantial steps to carry out a horrific crime,” the U.S. Attorney's Office said in a news release.

However, the judge said a life sentence would be “too harsh” and that it was unlikely Ressam would be involved in another violent conspiracy.

Chapman, Clem and fellow Customs inspectors Diana Dean and Mark Johnson received exceptional-service medals in 1999 for their roles in Ressam's capture.

Dean, who grew suspicious of Ressam's nervous demeanor in a rented Chrysler 300M sedan before the foot pursuit, was further honored by having an anti-terrorism medal co-named for her.

Dean, who is retired, and Johnson were unavailable for comment Wednesday.

“We're thankful God was looking over our shoulder to give Diana the knowledge to stop the guy,” Clem said Wednesday.

Clem added: “You're dealing with real evil people. These people are evil, and [Ressam] should be in prison for the rest of his life.”

Reporter Rob Ollikainen can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5072, or at rollikainen@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: October 24. 2012 6:01PM
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