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Ex-Terrorist Violated Release Terms, Judge Rules

Abdelghani Meskini, convicted in an al-Qaeda plot to bomb Los Angeles International Airport, violated terms of his release from prison by trying to obtain an AK-47 assault rifle and lying to authorities, a judge ruled.

U.S. prosecutors charged that Meskini, 42, an Algerian who pleaded guilty in 2001 to federal charges stemming from the foiled terrorist attack, slipped back into a life of crime after being sentenced to six years in prison. He took a job as a manager for a suburban Atlanta apartment complex in 2005.

During a two-day hearing beginning Oct. 13, prosecutors called witnesses that included an Atlanta hooker who said Meskini advised her how to place ads for her prostitution business and a man convicted of bank fraud who said he committed credit-card and identity theft with Meskini. U.S. District Judge John Keenan found that Meskini hadn’t violated the terms of his release by associating with known criminals.

Meskini’s workplace was “a hotbed of criminal activity where narcotics sales and prostitution occurred openly and persistently,” Keenan said in a ruling. U.S. probation officials who oversaw Meskini were to blame for allowing him to work there, Keenan said.

“Incredibly, the U.S. Probation Department approved Meskini’s employment,” Keenan said. While Meskini told two law enforcement officers about criminal activity at the complex, no officials visited it, the judge said.

‘Disingenuous at Best’

“The government’s attempt to put Meskini in jail for associations about which it knew or should have known for several years is disingenuous at best,” Keenan said.

Prosecutors had asked Keenan to sentence Meskini to serve more time in prison because of the alleged violations. Keenan last week scheduled a hearing tomorrow to determine if he will sentence Meskini to additional prison time.

In his ruling, Keenan said Meskini wasn’t guilty of four violations, including frequenting drug establishments, failing to cooperate with federal authorities and failing to make restitution payments.

Keenan found Meskini guilty of five violations, including lying to an agent of the Federal Bureau of Investigation in late 2009, when he said he wasn’t involved in any criminal activity and hadn’t attempted to obtain a weapon. Meskini also lied on a monthly report to U.S. probation officials when asked if he possessed or attempted to possess a firearm, Keenan said.

‘Might Need It’

Crystal Roughton, the prostitute who was also a resident of the complex, testified that she was a close friend of Meskini’s. She said that around September 2009 he asked her to help him obtain an AK-47, “because he was AWOL from the military and he might need it to get home.”

Roughton testified that Meskini forwarded her e-mails containing photographs of an AK-47 that he wanted. She and the second witness, Ricky Stephenson, who was convicted of 168 counts of bank fraud, both testified they also had seen Meskini with a handgun.

The so-called millennium plot was thwarted when Ahmed Ressam, another Algerian, was arrested on Dec. 14, 1999, while transporting explosives across the U.S.-Canadian border near Seattle. Meskini, who was living in Brooklyn, New York, was charged after his telephone number was found in Ressam’s pocket.

Meskini testified as a government witness against two co-conspirators in federal trials in 2001. After being sentenced to six years in prison by Keenan in January 2004, he was released from prison in 2005 after receiving credit for time served and good behavior. He could have faced more than 100 years in prison, the U.S. said.

Mark S. DeMarco, Meskini’s lawyer, couldn’t be immediately reached for comment. A spokeswoman for Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara also couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.

The case is U.S. v. Meskini, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan).

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