Chicago man guilty of aiding Pakistan militant group
CHICAGO (Reuters) – A U.S. jury Thursday found a Pakistani-born Chicago businessman guilty of providing support to an Islamic militant group responsible for the 2008 assault on Mumbai but not guilty of taking part in the attack.
In a mixed verdict, the jury also found Tahawwur Rana, 50, a former Pakistan Army doctor with Canadian citizenship, guilty of conspiring to attack a Danish newspaper, a plot hatched by the militant group but never carried out.
In the trial, held in U.S. federal court in Chicago, the key witness — Rana’s childhood friend, David Headley — implicated Pakistan’s intelligence agency, ISI, in the Mumbai attack which killed 166 people.
Headley admitted scouting targets for the Mumbai attackers sent by Lashkar-e-Taiba, the militant group behind both plots and designated by the U.S. State Department a terrorist organization.
The judge gave both sides 60 days to file post-trial motions and did not set a sentencing date. Rana faces a maximum of 15 years in prison for each of the two counts.
U.S. Justice Department officials said the case was not over.
“I’m hoping there are other defendants … that other people are brought to justice, both here and overseas,” said Patrick Fitzgerald, the U.S. Attorney in Chicago who has led prosecutions of several Islamic militants.
Fitzgerald would not say what steps might be taken to track down the six Pakistanis charged in the U.S. case, including Headley’s main contact with the ISI, known only as Major Iqbal. None is in custody.
The case revealed contacts between ISI and Islamic militants who are fighting India over the disputed territory of Kashmir. It comes on the heels of the killing of al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in Pakistan by U.S. special forces that worsened already strained U.S.-Pakistani ties.
Headley testified that other ISI officers were helpful to him and trained him in spycraft, but that he suspected ISI “higher-ups” did not know of the Mumbai plot.
Rana, 50, was charged with supporting the plots to attack Mumbai and Denmark, and of supporting Lashkar-e-Taiba.
He was found guilty of supporting the Danish plot and Lashkar, but the jury did not find his support of Lashkar resulted in any deaths, sparing him a life prison sentence.
‘BUYING A PLANE TICKET’
“We think they got it wrong,” Rana’s lawyer, Patrick Blegen, said of the guilty verdicts, adding he planned to appeal.
“He faces 30 years for basically buying a plane ticket,” defense lawyer Charles Swift said, referring to Rana arranging one of Headley’s tickets to Denmark to perform reconnaissance work on the Jyllands-Posten newspaper. The planned attack was intended to avenge published cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammed that angered many Muslims.
“Given the background of the people the threat was very real,” Fitzgerald said, citing the plan to storm the newspaper’s Copenhagen offices and behead its staff.
Headley, who pleaded guilty, provided valuable information to U.S. authorities in exchange for avoiding the death penalty and extradition to India, Fitzgerald said. Prosecutors said he identified three-dozen other potential targets, most in India.
Rana sat blinking in court as U.S. District Judge Harry Leinenweber read the verdict. Some of Rana’s family members in court bowed their heads. He has a wife and three children.
“He’s in shock,” Swift said of his client.
Over five days of testimony, Headley, a 50-year-old former U.S. drug informant, recounted the months he spent scouting targets for the Mumbai attackers and Major Iqbal. He claimed he kept Rana informed all along while using the cover story that he worked for Rana’s immigration business.
Headley said he was told by Major Iqbal and his Lashkar contacts to back off the Danish plot because of the intense investigation brought to bear following the Mumbai attack.
But Headley, an American with a Pakistani father, pursued the plan with al Qaeda-linked Pakistani militant Ilyas Kashmiri, who he met through a former Pakistani army officer who is also charged in both plots.
In another sign of strained ties between the nominal allies, officials in Pakistan and the United States cannot agree if Kashmiri was killed in a recent U.S. drone strike.
(Editing by Sandra Maler and Vicki Allen)