French terrorist hunter testifies at hearing on Ahmed Ressam
SEATTLE – A terrorist hunter from France has testified in federal court that bomb-plot defendant Ahmed Ressam is also wanted in Europe on terrorism-related charges.
Jean-Louis Bruguiere, an investigating magistrate, gave evidence at a U.S. District Court hearing Friday. At issue was whether he will be allowed to testify as an expert witness at Ressam’s trial, scheduled to begin March 12 in Los Angeles.
Ressam, an Algerian national, is accused of participating in a terrorist bomb plot that targeted New Year’s 2000 celebrations in the United States. He was arrested Dec. 14, 1999, in Port Angeles, Wash., after U.S. Customs Service agents reported finding bomb-making chemicals and equipment in his rented car.
Federal prosecutors say Bruguiere’s testimony is essential to help them prove that Ressam, 34, is an international terrorist.
”He’s an important witness,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Jerry Diskin said as he left the courthouse. ”We want him very badly.”
Late last year, Bruguiere said, arrest warrants were issued by Interpol charging Ressam with conspiring to commit terrorist acts and making false documents.
”We have an investigation concerning him but not him exclusively,” Bruguiere testified through an interpreter.
Over the past two decades, Bruguiere, 56, has built successful cases against the infamous terrorist ”Carlos the Jackal,” radical Palestinian and Lebanese terror groups, and the Irish Republican Army. In France, magistrates collect evidence and issue subpoenas as prosecutors do in the United States.
Nicknamed ”The Cowboy” because he packs a .357 Magnum, Bruguiere has several bodyguards and rides in a bullet-proof car. He claims to have been threatened numerous times and was the target of one assassination attempt.
At Friday’s hearing, Bruguiere began to lay out evidence on the structure and tactics of radical Islamic terrorist networks worldwide and Ressam’s alleged role in them.
He said the structure of such groups has changed dramatically over the years, making them more difficult to infiltrate.
They used to be hierarchical with a clear line of leadership, but now have a horizontal structure, Bruguiere said.
It is ”very much like a spider’s web,” he said, ”and can change its nature very quickly.”
Because of the ongoing French investigation, he did not give many details.
French officials believe Ressam was part of a band of French, Algerian and Bosnian Islamic militants who carried out several armed robberies in Belgium and northern France in 1996, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer said in a Saturday report on the hearing.
A memorandum filed Dec. 4 by prosecutors said Bruguiere went to Montreal in October 1999 to question Ressam, who had been living there for five years. Though he didn’t find Ressam, Bruguiere conducted several searches and discovered photographs of Ressam and other members of his alleged terrorist cell, the memorandum said.
U.S. District Judge John Coughenour will decide whether Bruguiere will be allowed to testify in Ressam’s federal trial, which was moved to Los Angeles because of extensive pre-trial publicity here.