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Algerian man agrees to cooperate in millennium terrorist plot

NEW YORK (CNN) -- A man accused of conspiring to bomb New Year's 2000 celebrations in the United States pleaded guilty and agreed to cooperate with authorities just days before one of his alleged co-conspirators is to go on trial.

Abdel Ghani Meskini, 33, an Algerian native, reversed an earlier plea of not guilty in the U.S. District Court of Southern New York, according to transcripts released Thursday.

As a result of the plea, Meskini could face a maximum of 105 years in prison without the possibility of parole.

Meskini was arrested in late December 1999 in New York after authorities claimed he conspired to carry out a New Year's terrorist attack with suspected Algerian explosives smuggler Ahmed Ressam, who was arrested at Port Angeles, Washington, earlier that month with a car allegedly loaded with explosive material.

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Meskini testified he provided material support to the man he knew only as "Reda." U.S. authorities contend Reda is Ressam, who is scheduled to go on trial Monday.

Meskini reached an agreement with the government on March 2 and then five days later officially entered his guilty plea to eight counts, including conspiracy to provide material terrorism support and use of fraudulent documents.

Meskini testified he conspired with a Canadian man by the name of Mokhtar Haouari, to provide money and other goods to Reda.

Haouari, who was indicted with Meskini, is scheduled to go on trial next month in federal court in Manhattan.

In the plea agreement, Meskini said that Reda was to enter the United States through Canada and that his entry "created a substantial risk of destruction of real or personal property within the United States." He said he traveled to Seattle to assist Reda.

"I was asked by Mr. Haouari and agreed to provide to Reda money, transportation, a communication device and other means of assistance should he request," Meskini told the court.

He also said that from October 1997 to January 2000, he conspired with Haouari and others to "possess and transfer identification documents," including passports, immigration identification cards and Social Security cards.

Judge Loretta Preska read off a list of the charges and said, "The total maximum sentence for all these counts combined is 105 years imprisonment." Meskini also could be fined up to $2.75 million.

"Are those the terms and conditions of the agreement as you understand them?" Preska asked.

"Yes," Meskini responded.

U.S. officials say the plot involved more than a dozen people and prompted congressional hearings into the security of the traditionally open U.S.-Canada border.

Haouari was arrested in Montreal, Canada, on January 10, 2000, and was brought to the United States last August after waiving extradition.

According to court papers filed in Canada, authorities intercepted a December 25, 1999, telephone call between Meskini and an unidentified individual in Algeria. During the call, Meskini stated that he and Haouri knew Ressam, that Ressam was part of a well-organized group and that Haouari was part of the same network.

After Meskini was arrested, he told authorities that he considered Haouari to be a "very important brother," who was knowledgeable about Jihad or fighting the enemies of Islam.

Court papers said Meskini told Haouari about his desire to participate in Jihad. Haouari then told Meskini about Ressam, who had fought in the Algerian Jihad and who had contacts in London and Afghanistan. He allegedly referred to Ressam as Abu Reda.

In early December 1999 Haouari allegedly called Meskini and told him that Ressam was in Vancouver but would be coming to Seattle and would need Meskini's assistance.

Reuters contributed to this report.



RELATED STORIES:
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February 15, 2000
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January 21, 2000
2 indicted as alleged conspirators in suspected terror plot
January 19, 2000

RELATED SITES:
U.S. District Court of Southern New York

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