A Pakistani-born Canadian was sentenced to 14 years in prison for helping plan an attack on a Danish newspaper that published cartoons of the prophet Muhammad.
Tahawwur Rana, 52, was sentenced today by U.S. District Judge Harry D. Leinenweber in Chicago federal court, where a jury convicted him in June 2011.
The jury found that Rana knowingly let his immigration-services business be used by co-conspirator David Coleman Headley as a cover for a mission to scout the Copenhagen newspaper Morgenavisen Jyllands-Posten. One cartoon showed the prophet Muhammad with a bomb in his turban. The attack never happened.
“What Judge Leinenweber did today was finish what the jury started,” defense attorney Charles Swift told reporters after the hearing. Co-counsel Patrick Blegen said the verdict will be appealed and that he and Swift will discuss whether to challenge the sentence, too.
Blegen said he and Swift didn’t speak with their client after the sentencing before meeting with the press in the courthouse lobby. Rana has been in U.S. custody since his conviction.
Rana was also found guilty of aiding a Pakistani group the U.S. had designated as a terrorist organization. He was acquitted of helping plotters of the November 2008 Mumbai attacks that killed about 160 people over three days, including six Americans.
Headley, 52, was arrested by federal agents at Chicago’s O’Hare international Airport in October 2009 and pleaded guilty to 12 criminal counts, confessing his involvement in both plots. He agreed to cooperate with investigators and was the lead witness against Rana.
Headley is scheduled to be sentenced on Jan. 24.
Prosecutors asked that Rana get consecutive 15-year prison sentences for each conviction, for a total of 30 years.
Blegen and Swift asked for a lesser sanction, citing their client’s limited involvement with the newspaper plot and his failing health.
Rana in Court
Thin, bespectacled and gray-bearded, Rana attended today’s proceedings wearing an orange federal prison-issue uniform, white socks and blue slip-on shoes. Invited by the judge to address the court, he declined to do so.
At today’s hearing, Leinenweber rejected prosecutors’ requests for longer sentences than federal guidelines call for and capped Rana’s punishment at 14 years.
“This serious prison sentence should go a long way toward convincing would-be terrorists that they can’t hide behind the scenes, lend support to the violent aims of terrorist organizations, and escape detection and punishment,” Gary S. Shapiro, the acting U.S. attorney in Chicago, said in a statement after the hearing.
“Just as vigorously as we pursue terrorists and their organizations, we will also pursue those who facilitate their violent plots from a safe distance,” Shapiro said.
The goal of the conspiracy Rana helped support “was murder on a grand, horrific scale,” the government said in court papers.
Rana’s lawyers argued that the plot against the paper wasn’t carried out and no one was hurt. They said their client recently had a heart attack.
The conviction for providing material support to Lashkar e Tayyiba, a militant group agitating for the separation of the predominantly Muslim state of Jammu and Kashmir from India, was not tied to any specific deaths, his lawyers said.
They portrayed their client at the trial as an honest businessman who had been continually deceived by his friend.
“Rana is quite simply not a ‘terrorist,’ not a ‘jihadist’ and has not imposed on his family or friends the particular brand of hatred that Headley spread, or attempted to spread, to all of those around him,” Rana’s lawyers said in court papers.
Headley, the U.S.-born son of a Pakistani father and an American mother, testified that he had known Rana since the two attended a Pakistani military academy as teenagers. He called Rana his “best friend in the world.”
The newspaper plot called for a fight to the death with Danish authorities during which Jyllands-Posten staff members were to be shot and beheaded, their severed heads then thrown from office windows, Headley said.
Headley testified 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 Blegen said in court today suggested the idea of severing heads.
Kashmiri, while charged in the case, was never apprehended and was reported killed in a U.S. missile attack in June 2011.
“Rana has not tried to infect his family or anyone else with this kind of hatred that Headley tried to spread,” Blegen told the judge. “He’s not the kind of person who needs to be put in jail until he dies.”
Assistant U.S. Attorney Daniel Collins disagreed, asking Leinenweber to impose a long term.
“He’s never accepted responsibility,” the prosecutor said.
Before pronouncing the sentence, the judge cited letters received on Rana’s behalf and said the defendant was evidently an intelligent person capable of providing assistance “in a good way” to many people.
The judge said it was difficult to understand how a such a person can “get sucked into a dastardly plot.”
The Islamic faith forbids depictions of Muhammad. Artist Kurt Westergaard’s 2005 caricatures touched off violent protests in Muslim communities around the world.
The case is U.S. v. Kashmiri, 09-cr-00830, U.S. District Court, Northern District of Illinois (Chicago).