Millennium terrorist jailed for 24 years

NEW YORK

An Algerian was sentenced to 24 years in prison yesterday the maximum for his role in a plot to detonate a suitcase bomb at the Los Angeles airport amid the millennium celebrations.

Mokhtar Haouari, who lives in Canada, was convicted last summer of federal charges he supplied fake IDs and cash to two others in the plot.

The plot was foiled when its mastermind, Ahmed Ressam, was arrested in Washington state in December 1999 while trying to enter from Canada in a car with a trunkful of explosives. Ressam had been trained in terrorist camps financed by Osama bin Laden, according to investigators.

At the time, prosecutors said that the attack on the crowded airport in the days before Jan. 1, 2000, could have been the bloodiest act of terrorism against the United States since the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing.

Haouari turned down the opportunity to speak at his sentencing and sat impassively.

“The defendant”s conduct posed a great risk to the well-being of the American people,” U.S. District Judge John Keenan said.

The jury found finding Haouari guilty of conspiracy to supply material support to a terrorist act. He was also convicted of conspiracy to commit fraud.

Charges against Egyptian student dropped

NEW YORK

Charges were dropped yesterday against an Egyptian student accused of lying to federal investigators about an aviation radio found in his hotel room near the World Trade Center.

Another guest at the hotel came forward Monday, three days after Abdallah Higazy was charged, and told hotel officials the radio belonged to him, said Marvin Smilon, a spokesman for the U.S. attorney”s office said.

Prosecutors had accused Higazy, the 30-year-old son of an Egyptian diplomat, of interfering with the investigation into the Sept. 11 attacks.

Higazy had insisted in two rounds of FBI interviews that he knew nothing of the hand-held radio. Prosecutors had said the radio was found in Higazy”s room along with his Egyptian passport, a copy of the Quran and a gold medallion.

After the other guest at the Millennium Hilton Hotel came forward, federal prosecutors asked that the charges against Higazy be dismissed, Smilon said.

A judge approved the dismissal of the charges yesterday, and it was unclear whether Higazy had been freed, Smilon said. He was arrested Dec. 17 as a material witness in the investigation of the terrorist attacks.

Debris blamed for Concorde crash

PARIS

A much-awaited government report on the fiery crash of an Air France Concorde confirmed a long-held theory that a piece of debris from a Continental Airlines plane was a factor in the deadly accident.

The 400-page report by France”s Accident Investigation Bureau, or BEA, released yesterday says the crash of the luxury supersonic on July 25, 2000 could not have been foreseen. But it also takes aim at what it says are some sloppy operations by Air France and Houston-based Continental.

Continental yesterday sharply denied any suggestion that it was responsible for the crash, which killed 113 people.

The report said a Continental Airlines DC-10 shed a piece of metal known as a wear strip onto a runway that the ill-fated Concorde later used for takeoff.

IRS to audit 50,000 randomly this year

WASHINGTON

Aiming to target its audits better, the IRS intends a special random check this year of about 50,000 individual tax returns but will subject fewer people to the intense, face-to-face questioning that drew heavy criticism in the past.

IRS Commissioner Charles Rossotti said yesterday the goal is to collect an up-to-date snapshot of the taxpaying public so that audits get better results. Almost a quarter of Internal Revenue Service audits now done turn out to have been unnecessary the new information could reduce the number of no-change audits by 15,000 a year.

“We don”t want to audit somebody who doesn”t need to be audited,” Rossotti told reporters. “We have an opportunity to reduce the burden on the honest taxpayer.”

The project, officially called the National Research Program, was last done in 1988.

Senate office set to reopen tomorrow

WASHINGTON

Officials pronounced the Hart Senate Office Building free of anthrax yesterday, and maintenance crews began preparing it for reopening tomorrow, three months after a letter laden with the deadly bacteria was opened there.

In a pair of memos e-mailed to senators, health and environmental officials said repeated efforts to cleanse the building had “achieved the goal of eliminating viable anthrax spores.”

It is clean and safe for rehabilitation and reoccupancy,” said the memo, citing the findings of the Environmental Protection Agency, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and other agencies.

Even so, there were mixed reactions among workers about returning to the building where a letter believed to contain billions of anthrax spores was opened Oct. 15 in the office of Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.).

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