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Chicago Man Acquitted of Charge He Aided Mumbai Terror Plot

A man convicted on two terrorism counts by a Chicago jury was acquitted of a third charge that he helped plotters of the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attacks that killed about 160 people over three days, including six Americans.

Tahawwur Rana, 50, a Canadian citizen and Pakistan native tried in federal court in Chicago, was found guilty yesterday of helping plan a never-executed attack on a Danish newspaper that in 2005 published inflammatory cartoons of the Islamic prophet Muhammad. The jury of eight women and four men also convicted him of providing support to a Pakistani group the U.S. labeled a terrorist organization in 2001.

“We think it’s important that people around the world know that we do have to go after people who plan and carry out attacks,” Chicago U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald told reporters in a press conference after the verdict.

“It’s also important that people never think that it’s safe to provide cover to people to allow people to travel and carry out the surveillance for terrorist attacks.”

Fitzgerald, who was present when the verdict was read, said he was disappointed only by the single finding of not guilty.

Patrick Blegen, one of Rana’s two defense attorneys, said at a press conference that they will appeal the conviction.

“We respect their decision,” Blegen said of the jurors. “We believe they got it wrong.”

Muhammad Caricatures

Jurors found Rana knowingly allowed his immigration services business to be used by co-conspirator David Coleman Headley as a cover for a mission to surveil Morgenavisen Jyllands-Posten, the Copenhagen newspaper that published cartoons in 2005 of Muhammad. One illustration showed the prophet with a bomb in his turban.

Depictions of Muhammad are forbidden in the Islamic faith. The caricatures, drawn by artist Kurt Westergaard, touched off protests in Muslim communities around the world.

Headley was arrested by federal agents at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport in October 2009.

Last year he pleaded guilty to 12 criminal counts. He admitted to his role in the Denmark plot and confessed that he performed similar reconnaissance in advance of the Mumbai attacks blamed on the Pakistani group Lashkar e Taiba. The militant group agitates for separation of the predominantly Muslim state of Jammu and Kashmir from India.

Headley also agreed to cooperate with investigators and was their lead witness against Rana.

From Nov. 26 to Nov. 28 of 2008, a squad of 10 attackers assaulted two Mumbai hotels, a cafe, a train station and a Jewish hostel. Nine of the assailants were killed.

Landing Site

Headley told the court that he helped identify targets and a water-landing site for the attackers.

Rana was accused of helping Headley travel to India, where he opened an office for Rana’s business. Jurors rejected prosecutors’ claims that Rana knowingly supported Headley’s efforts there.

The panel rejected the allegation Rana’s aid to Lashkar resulted in deaths, which would have made him eligible for a life sentence. He faces a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison for each of the two counts on which he was convicted. He may be sentenced to serve those sentences consecutively or concurrently.

No sentencing date has been set. Blegen told reporters he would file post-trial motions challenging the verdict.

The jury reached its decision after two days of deliberations in a trial that began with their empanelling on May 16. Closing arguments were made on June 7.

Jurors Anonymous

The jurors declined to meet with reporters after the verdict. U.S. District Court Judge Harry D. Leinenweber, who presided over the trial, said their names won’t be released.

Headley, 50, was born in Washington as Daood Gilani, the son of a Pakistani father and an American mother. During the trial he testified that he had known Rana since the two attended a Pakistani military academy as teenagers. He said the defendant was his “best friend in the world.”

Headley also told of his two narcotics trafficking convictions, his subsequent work for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency and his later training with Lashkar.

He also said that he had carried out assignments for an agent of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence Agency identified only as “Major Iqbal” and another man, al-Qaeda ally Ilyas Kashmiri, who was reported killed in a U.S. missile attack on June 3.

Planned Beheadings

The attack on the newspaper, he testified, called for staff members to be shot and beheaded, with attackers then throwing their heads from office windows.

The Viby, Denmark-based newspaper today declined to comment on the verdict, Editor-in-Chief Joern Mikkelsen said by phone. The newspaper prefers to focus on reporting the news rather than commenting, he said.

Rana’s lawyers portrayed their client as an honest businessman who had been continually deceived by his friend, Headley.

In his closing argument, Blegen portrayed Headley as a lifelong manipulator and confidence man who trained to be a spy in Pakistan.

“Nothing is simple when it comes to David Headley,” Blegen told the jury. “He thinks he can fool everyone. He can’t fool you.”

“He’s not some fool,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Victoria Peters said of Rana in her closing statement. “He knows exactly who David Headley is and what David Headley is about, and he fully approves.”

S.M. Imran Gardezi, a spokesman for the Pakistan embassy in Washington and Torsten Jansen, a spokesman for the Danish embassy in Washington, didn’t immediately return a voice-mail message to each seeking comment after regular business hours yesterday. Virander Paul, spokesman for the Indian Embassy in Washington, had no immediate comment yesterday.

The case is U.S. v. Kashmiri, 09-cr-00830, U.S. District Court, Northern District of Illinois (Chicago).

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