US defense rests case in trial of alleged Mumbai attacks co-conspirator
CHICAGO – The defense in the trial of an alleged co-conspirator of the 2008 Mumbai attacks rested its case Monday without the defendant taking to the stand.
Chicago businessman Tahawwur Hussain Rana, 50, is charged with three counts of providing material support to terrorists by acting as a messenger and providing a cover for a key figure in the bloody 60-hour siege of India’s largest city in which 166 people died.
David Coleman Headley — Rana’s old friend from military school in Pakistan — has been cooperating with prosecutors since his 2009 arrest and was the star witness at Rana’s trial after admitting his role in the 2008 attacks.
In response to specific questions from Judge Harry Leinenweber, Rana said he was waiving his right to testify in his trial.
The 50-year-old former Pakistani military physician has pleaded not guilty to all charges. Closing arguments will now begin on Tuesday.
“We are optimistic. We don’t think the government has proven the case,” Rana’s attorney Charles Swift told reporters afterwards.
Asked if Rana’s decision not to testify carried any added significance, Swift said: “Absolutely nothing.”
Swift, who has told the court that Rana was duped by Headley, said the prosecution was trying to prove “guilt by association.”
“The government seeks life imprisonment (for Rana) and much less for Headley. That’s the problem,” he said.
As the arguments in the trial concluded, the jurors were for the first time shown parts of Rana’s video interrogation by US federal agents.
The prosecution showed about 10 minutes from the six-hour interrogation of Rana in a poorly lit Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) holding cell in Chicago on October 18, 2009, the day he was arrested.
It was the first glimpse of Rana’s interaction with federal agents questioning him about Headley, his links with Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) as well the Lashkar-e-Taiba terrorist group.
Speaking in low tones and looking somewhat unsure initially, Rana answered questions about his conversations with Headley.
“We are talking for hours. Friends are talking. There is loose talk, there is good talk, there is bad talk,” Rana says in the video clip.
While discussing Headley’s links with the ISI and Lashkar, Rana says, “Probably Lashkar did not know he was working for the ISI.”
Meanwhile, the reported death of Pakistani Al-Qaeda commander Ilyas Kashmiri said to have died in a US drone strike last week was also raised in the trial.
Kashmiri is one of seven people named in the US indictment and the commander of a jihadi group called Brigade 313, and the judge asked if his name should now be struck off the indictment.
But Assistant US Attorney Daniel Collins told the judge that his death was not yet officially confirmed.
Headley formally admitted to 12 terrorism charges in March 2010 after prosecutors agreed not to seek the death penalty or to allow him to be extradited to either India, Pakistan or Denmark to face related charges.
The Mumbai attacks stalled a fragile four-year peace process between India and Pakistan, two South Asian neighbors and nuclear-armed rivals, which was only resumed in February.