Attorneys begin arguments in Chicago terror trial

May 23, 2011

Tony Arnold and Ammad Omar

(AP/file)
An artist drawing shows Chicago businessman Tahawwur Hussain Rana appearing in court.

Updated: 11:44 PM CDT

Opening day in the trial of Tahawwur Rana ended with the government's star witness still on the stand.

Federal prosecutors allege Rana provided material support for David Headley Coleman, who helped plan the 2008 attacks in Mumbai, India.  In a raid in November 2008, attackers killed at least 164 people in Mumbai, including six Americans.

Prosecutors also say Rana helped coordinate a thwarted attack on a Danish newspaper that printed cartoons of the Muslim prophet Mohammad.

Coleman is testifying against Rana, after pleading guilty to avoid the death penalty, or extradition to India, Pakistan, or Denmark.

The Mumbai Attacks

According to Headley's testimony and an indictment from federal prosecutors, Rana, a Pakistani-born Canadian citizen living in Chicago, knew Headley was involved with Lashkar e Taiba, a group the U.S. government considers a terrorist organization based in Pakistan.

Headley says he traveled to Mumbai five times between September 2006 and July 2008 to conduct surveillance work before the attacks.

During Monday's testimony, Headley repeatedly said he worked closely with Lashkar, as well as members of Pakistan's intelligence agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence, or ISI.  His point man was allegedly an ISI agent known only as "Major Iqbal." Headley said he briefed Major Iqbal after each of his trips to India.  He also said he regularly updated Rana on these meetings.  Neither Major Iqbal or several other co-defendents listed in a federal indictment are under U.S. custody.  It's not believed that the American government knows the exact identity of Major Iqbal.

Testimony ended on Monday with Coleman discussing landing plans for the seaborne attack in Mumbai - plans he says were aided by a member of Pakistan's Navy.  Calls to the Pakistani Embassy were not immediately returned, but Pakistani officials have been quoted anonymously in various published reports dismissing Headley's credibility, or blaming "rogue" agents.

Opening Statements

In her opening statement, prosecutor Sarah Streicker said the government will show through the course of the trial that Rana played a critical, but behind-the-scenes role in the plots. Prosecutors say he used his immigration company, First World Immigration Services, as cover to help his friend, Headley, travel and set up shop to India, Denmark and Pakistan to do surveillance and planning work for the two attacks.

Meanwhile, Charles Swift, a defense attorney for Rana, told the jury in his opening statements that Rana had no idea what Headley was up to. Swift said Rana had the unfortunate circumstance of being friends with Headley, but he did not help plan any terror attacks.

The Denmark Plot

After the Mumbai attack, prosecutors allege Rana and Headley turned their attention to the Danish daily newspaper Morgenavisen Jyllands-Posten, which printed editorial cartoons of the Muslim prophet Mohammad that many Muslims found offensive.

Prosecutors say Headley traveled to Denmark posing as a representative of Rana’s immigration company, First World Immigration Services, to express an interest in advertising with the newspaper.

In all, they say Headley made at least 13 surveillance videos in a plan targeted at an editor and an editorial cartoonist at the newspaper. According to the indictment, Rana posed as Headley in an email to the newspaper expressing interest in placing the ad. Headley was arrested in early October 2009 at O’Hare International Airport just before prosecutors say he was about to leave for Pakistan. Rana was arrested shortly afterward.

"Secret Evidence"

During pre-trial proceedings, many motions and documents had been filed under seal, meaning the public does not have access to them. In some circumstances, Rana’s defense attorneys did not have access to the court filings, under a provision called the Classified Information Procedures Act, or CIPA.  There's been speculation about whether some of this information could reveal more on whether officials in the Pakistani governnment knew about the attacks.

If convicted, Rana faces a maximum sentence of life in prison, though Indian news reports say the Indian government wants Rana transferred to that control after the trial. Rana’s defense attorney, Patrick Blegen, told reporters recently that he had not heard anything from the Indian government about turning over his client to Indian authorities after his trial in the U.S.