By B. Raman
US District Judge Harry D Leinenweber was reported to have ruled at Chicago on June 9,2011, that Tahawur Hussain Rana, of the Chicago cell of the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LET), was guilty of supporting the LET and plotting to bomb Jyllands-Posten, a Danish newspaper which had published cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed in 2005.
A 12-member jury reached a split verdict after two days of deliberations and ruled that Rana was not guilty of conspiracy to provide material support to the 26/11 Mumbai attacks which killed 166 people, including six Americans.
No date has been set for the sentencing. Rana could face a maximum sentence of 30 years in prison on the two counts combined.
The Indian Government has expressed “disappointment” over Rana’s acquittal on charges of plotting the Mumbai attacks and said it will soon take a decision on filing a charge sheet against him and his accomplice David Headley in an Indian court.
Explaining the verdict, US Justice Department spokesman Randall Samborn said: “A Federal Court jury has convicted defendant Rana on one count of conspiracy to provide material support to the Denmark terrorism plot and one count of providing material support to LeT, and not guilty of conspiracy to provide material support to the Mumbai terrorist attacks.”
Rana’s lawyers have said they would appeal against the ruling as there was an “error” in the trial. US Attorney Patrick J Fitzgerald has said the acquittal of Rana, who was a co-accused in the Mumbai attacks with Headley, of charges that he was involved in the 26/11 terror attacks in Mumbai was disappointing. At the same time, he said they were “gratified” that the jury found Rana guilty of involvement in plotting a terror attack in Denmark and providing material support to LeT, designated by the US as a foreign terrorist organisation.
When asked what went wrong on the 26/11 charges, Fitzgerald said:
“We put our evidence forward and the jury found that we did not meet the burden (of proof) there. But they did find we made our burden proving material support to Lashkar and they found that we met our burden with regard to attack on Denmark.”
Rana had been cited as a co-accused in respect of two charges “Conspiracy to provide material support to Terrorism in India” and the planned attack in Denmark. In respect of the planned Denmark attack, Ilyas Kashmiri and Major Abdur Rehman Hashim Syed alias Pasha were also co-accused (in absentia). A supplementary indictment had been filed on April 25,2011, against Sajid Mir,Abu Qahafa, Mazhar Iqbal and Major Iqbal citing them as co-accused along with Rana in respect of the 26/11 strikes.
Since the six Pakistanis cited as co-accused along with Rana are in Pakistan, the evidence against them was not considered and referred to the jury, which was called upon only to give its opinion on the charges against Rana. Since Rana had not been found guilty of any involvement in the 26/11 terrorist strikes, the Justice Department is unlikely to move for any action against the six Pakistani nationals absconding in Pakistan, of whom Ilyas Kashmiri was reported to have been killed in a recent Drone strike. The Pakistanis cited in the indictments as the co-conspirators would be the beneficiaries of the acquittal of Rana in respect of the charges relating to the 26/11 terrorist strikes.
Since Rana has been found guilty of involvement in the plan to carry out a terrorist strike in Copenhagen, the US Justice Department can still press Pakistan for action against Ilyas (if his death is not confirmed) and Major Abdur Rehman Hashim Syed alias Pasha, both of whom have been cited as co-accused along with Rana in respect of the Copenhagen plot. It remains to be seen whether the Justice Department will do so.
It is surprising that the jury found Rana not guilty of involvement in the 26/11 terrorist strikes in Mumbai. There was a wealth of circumstantial evidence to show that he had knowingly allowed Headley to pose as an employee of his Chicago-based immigration consultancy service for his visits to India to assist the LET in its plans, that he had prior knowledge of the impending terrorist strikes and that he had knowledge of the LET’s plans to carry out fresh strikes in 2009 including in the National Defence College in New Delhi. Headley had discussed these plans with Rana. 12.Moreover, Rana was totally in the picture about Headley’s contacts with the LET as well as Ilyas Kashmiri.
I am told US laws do not permit an appeal against an acquittal by the jury. This would leave the Government of India with only one option. Try to get Rana extradited to India to face trial before an Indian court on charges different from those for which he was tried in the US. Since Rana was not the beneficiary of any plea bargain, extradition should be possible if the US is prepared to co-operate.
Both Headley and Rana are equally important for the Indian and US investigators to reconstruct the 26/11 terrorist strikes in Mumbai, to identify the entire network set up by them in India and the US and neutralise the members of the network still remaining undetected and to unearth the future plans of the LET and the 313 Brigade. The National Investigation Agency of India and the FBI should set up a joint team of senior officers to collate and review all the evidence on record so far and get a complete picture of the conspiracy.
The details of the circumstantial evidence available against Rana in respect of the Mumbai as well as the Copenhagen cases are given in the Annexure.
DETAILS OF THE EVIDENCE AVAILABLE AGAINST RANA
David Coleman Headley originally known as Daood Gilani and Tahawwur Hussain Rana, members of the Chicago cell of the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LET), operated in concert from Chicago. They were in personal, telephonic and E-mail contact with each other. They even took a drive in a car together on September 7, 2009, when they discussed their future operational plans in India and Denmark at the instance of the LET and the 313 Brigade headed by Ilyas Kashmiri .The LET had four future targets in India—-the Somnath temple, the National Defence College in New Delhi, and the film world and the Shiv Sena office in Mumbai. The 313 Brigade’s target was the Copenhagen office of the Danish newspaper, which published some cartoons of Prophet Mohammad in 2005.
2. Headley undertook his two visits to Denmark and five pre-26/11 visits to India posing as a representative of an immigration consultancy service, which Rana ran from Chicago. He had kept Rana informed of his posing as the representative of the consultancy service and asked him, after a visit to Denmark, to corroborate the statements made by him to his interlocutors in Denmark regarding his links with Rana’s service. The fact that Rana agreed to this shows his concurrence to Headley using the cover of being a representative of his service for his operational visits to Denmark and India to collect pre-attack information. Rana booked the air tickets for Headley for his two visits to Denmark.
3. There is no information or evidence to indicate that Headley and Rana travelled to India together or were in India at the same time and were in touch with each other during their stay in India. According to Indian media reports, during a visit to Kerala, Rana had published an advertisement in a local newspaper offering the services of his company for intending Indian applicants for a US visa. Neither Headley nor Rana would seem to have indicated in any way that the immigration consultancy service in Chicago for which they claimed to be working was one and the same.
4. According to the FBI’s first affidavit against Rana, on or about September 25, 2009, Rana spoke by telephone with the Consul General at the Pakistani Consulate-General in Chicago in an effort to obtain a 5-year visa for Headley to travel to Pakistan. It was clear from email traffic unrelated to terrorist plotting that the Consul- General knew Rana and Headley personally as all three attended the same high school. However, the Consul General knew Headley as Gilani. He was not aware that Gilani, his old schoolmate, had become Headley since February, 2006. In seeking a visa for Headley, Rana stated that he wished to obtain the visa for a white American named Headley who did not have any Pakistani background at all. When the Consul-General suggested that Rana send this white American to the consulate, Rana explained that he had sent his friend elsewhere to take care of some unspecified business so that someone else would visit the consulate. The FBI told the court in its affidavit that “It is clear from the foregoing conversation that Rana was attempting to deceive the Consul- General into granting a visa for Headley without the Consul- General knowing for whom the visa would be issued.”
5. According to the second report against Rana filed by the FBI in the court, he was in India in the third week of November, 2008. He flew from Mumbai to Dubai on a flight of the Emirates Airlines on November 21, 2008. He flew from Dubai to China by the same Airlines on November, 24, 2008, and from there returned to Chicago via Seoul on November 26, 2008, by the Asiana Airlines.
6. There is no reason to believe that Headley was in India during this period. The last of his five pre-26/11 visits to India was in July, 2008. It is not clear when did Rana arrive in India in November, 2008, which places he visited and whom he met. It is also not clear which city he visited in China, what was the purpose of his visit to China and why his visit to China was so short.
7. Rana had admitted to the FBI that during his visit to Dubai from November 21 to 24, 2008, he met Maj. (retd) Abdur Rehman Hashim Syed alias Pasha who was in touch with Ilyas Kashmiri on behalf of Headley and that he came to know from Pasha about the impending terrorist attacks by the LET in Mumbai. Rana sought to convey an impression that his visit (or visits?) to India had nothing to do with the 26/11 attacks and that he came to know of the planned attacks only from Pasha in Dubai a few days before the attacks. He did not alert the FBI about the impending terrorist attacks
8. At the same time, it is clear from the papers filed by the FBI in the court that Rana personally knew both the handling officers of Headley in Pakistan—- Maj (retd) Abdur Rehman of the 313 Brigade and Sajjid Mir of the LET. It is also clear that Rana was fully aware at least on September 7, 2009, if not earlier, of the LET’s plans for future attacks on four targets in India.