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Algerian is convicted in bomb plot

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NEW YORK — An Algerian was convicted Friday for his role in a foiled plot to blow up a suitcase bomb at the Los Angeles airport just before the millennium celebrations.

Mokhtar Haouari, 32, who lives in Canada, could get up to 50 years in prison for supplying fake IDs and cash to two cohorts in the plot.

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

The plot was foiled when its mastermind, Ahmed Ressam, tried to cross the Canadian border in a car with a trunk full of explosives in December 1999.

Jury foreman Christopher Lofting, a free-lance journalist, said jurors saw Haouari and his cohorts as diabolical but hapless. "If this is not the gang that couldn't shoot straight, I don't know what is," he said.

The federal jury deliberated two days before finding Haouari guilty of the top count: conspiracy to supply material support to a terrorist act. He was also convicted of conspiracy to commit fraud but was acquitted of another terrorism charge.

The French-speaking defendant sat impassively as an interpreter gave him the verdict, though his lawyer Daniel J. Ollen later said Haouari was "very upset." Ollen said he will appeal

Sentencing is Oct. 17.

Haouari was accused of supplying Ressam with phony identification and $3,000 used to buy bomb-making chemicals as part of a jihad — a holy war against the United States.

The prosecution's case hinged on the testimony of Ressam and another conspirator, Abdel Ghani Meskini, who both were convicted in the plot. Prosecutors said Haouari brought them together.

"The defendant played an important part in what could have been a terrible tragedy," prosecutor Robin Baker told the jury.

During the trial, Haouari became so enraged during Meskini's testimony that he smashed his head against the wooden defense table, making himself woozy.

Other prosecution evidence included phone records and phony driver's licenses and other documents.

The jury acquitted Haouari on a charge that he aided the airport bombing plot in particular. Prosecutors acknowledged that Haouari didn't know the exact bombing target, but the jury could have convicted him if it had found that he deliberately avoided details about the plot.