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A special report by Hal Bernton, Mike Carter, David Heath and James Neff · June 23 - July 7, 2002
Chapter 10:
The Mission

logo Ahmed Ressam makes preparations to bomb Los Angeles International Airport, but another target also beckons.

MONTREAL, August 1999 — As they prowled the streets for prey — vulnerable people from whom they could steal purses, wallets and passports — Ahmed Ressam and his Algerian friends sometimes wandered into the affluent suburb of Outremont.

There, they came face to face with the most hated of all: the Jews. Orthodox Jews, clad in black, with long beards, curly sideburns, mysterious woven shawls, on their way to and from synagogue.

Map of LAX
This map, with the Los Angeles International Airport circled, was found in Ressam's knapsack.
Samir Ait Mohamed, a former law student whose diabetes had kept him from going to terrorist training camp, had an idea for his Algerian brothers: What better way to catapult themselves onto the terrorist honor roll than to set off a bomb here in Outremont?

They could bring a loaded gasoline truck in and detonate it with a bomb planted inside the tank. The devastation would be incredible.

Ressam liked Mohamed's proposal. But Ressam had his own, more pressing mission, one endorsed by Abu Zubaydah: He was to attack the United States.

He had chosen his target: Los Angeles International Airport. And his deadline — the new millennium — was approaching.

On Aug. 31, Ressam began moving methodically on his assignment. He found his way to a strip mall in the Saint-Laurent neighborhood and walked into Active Electronique, the Canadian equivalent of Radio Shack. He wandered from rack to rack in the electronics section, scrutinizing tiny plastic bags. Finally, he went to the counter and laid out a cornucopia of electronics: wire, solder, circuit boards, capacitors, integrated circuits, 9-volt battery connectors, a soldering gun and several small, black, plastic boxes. Total: $237, charged to Visa.

Dossier icon
documentSee the list of credit-card charges introduced into evidence. [2.3M PDF]
The following day, he visited Lam Imports, where he bought two Casio electronic alarm watches.

At this point, Ressam was weighing whether to detonate one or two bombs at LAX — the second to explode as rescuers rushed to the scene of the first. He envisioned killing police and security personnel, icons of U.S. authority.

Back at his apartment, Ressam hunkered at a small kitchen table and carefully began to assemble components. He pried off the back of a watch, exposing its circuits. Inside, in one corner, was a tiny speaker that beeped when the alarm tripped. On that speaker were two speck-sized connections. He needed to solder wires to those connections and attach them to a switch that would close when the alarm went off.

Current from 9-volt batteries would flow to a tiny penlight bulb. Ressam would sand away the tip of the bulb, exposing filaments. He planned to embed this cheap trigger into a package of high explosives.

Ressam turned to an older Algerian, former Montreal roommate Mourad Ikhlef, for advice. Ikhlef had fled Algeria in 1992 just before he was convicted, in absentia, of helping to detonate a bomb in the Algiers airport that killed 11 and injured more than 100.

This bombing was notorious as a demonstration that some Islamic terrorists were willing to kill innocent citizens of their own countries to further their cause.

Ressam and Ikhlef decided that the LAX bombs should be placed near a crowded security checkpoint. The detonation would ring in the New Year with a staggering body count.

Snowy alley
Ahmed Ressam escaped down this alley behind the Sherbrooke apartment when police rang the buzzer.
Although he had moved to an apartment on Rue du Fort, Ressam occasionally spent the night at his old apartment on Sherbrooke, where his friends still lived. On Oct. 4, at 6:15 a.m., the apartment had other visitors: the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, led by Cpl. David Gendron.

The Mounties were, at last, making the raid demanded more than five months earlier by French terrorist-tracker Jean-Louis Bruguière. Much to his frustration, though, Bruguière and his investigators were not allowed to join in.

As it turned out, the Mounties could have used the help. They entered the tiled foyer of the building and rang the apartment, waiting a moment to see if they would be buzzed in. At the sound of the bell, Ressam bolted from the apartment and out a back door into an alley.

The door was unguarded. He got away.

Inside the dingy apartment, police found nine stolen passports, 47 pairs of new bluejeans, two cameras and numerous photographs, including some of Fateh Kamel. They also found a knapsack containing a black address book and scraps of paper with handwritten telephone numbers.

Book page
The address book left behind during the raid included Evergro Products; a contact in London; and Abu Zubaydah's phone number.
On the book's first page was an address for Evergro Products in Delta, B.C., an agricultural-supply store. That and the other addresses and phone numbers meant nothing to Gendron.

He made a copy of the book and sent it off to Bruguière in Paris to figure out.

Back at his own apartment and without his knapsack, Ressam went back to work on his plan. After further consideration, Ikhlef advised against using two bombs at the airport. Security workers were more likely to notice two separate, abandoned suitcases and evacuate the area before detonation. Make one huge bomb and set it to explode in 30 minutes, Ikhlef said. There will be plenty of time to escape.

Leave one piece of luggage unattended at various spots in the terminal and time how long it takes for security to notice it. Find the weakest spot.

Ressam accepted the advice, and he went back to work on a bomb. His near encounter with the Mounties had not deterred him in the least.
<< Chapter 9 Chapter 11 >>

Samir Mohamed Samir Ait Mohamed
Proposed detonating gasoline truck in Jewish neighborhood
Mourad Ikhlef
His bombing of Algiers airport was a blueprint

Montreal, 1999

· Samir Ait Mohamed: sah-MEER AY-yet moo-HAHM-ed
· Mourad Ikhlef: MOO-rahd IHK-lif

audio Hear these words
· See all words
Chapter 1: Past as Prologue
Chapter 2: The Fountainhead
Chapter 3: Leaving Home
Chapter 4: Sneaking In
Chapter 5: The Terrorist Tracker
Chapter 6: It Takes a Thief
Chapter 7: Joining Jihad
Chapter 8: Going to Camp
Chapter 9: 'A Bunch of Guys'
Chapter 10: The Mission
Chapter 11: The Ticking Bomb
Chapter 12: The Crossing
Chapter 13: On the Case
Chapter 14: The Warning
Chapter 15: Puzzle Pieces
Chapter 16: The Reckoning
Chapter 17: Nine-Eleven

See About this series for source list, credits and reprints.

Understanding the Conflict
Two Peoples, One Land

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