26/11 Mumbai terror attacks | Key accused Tahawwur Rana wanted a ‘medal’ for ‘top class’ contribution

In this file courtroom artist's drawing, Chicago businessman Tahawwur Rana (centre) appears before Judge Matthew Kennelly in Chicago's federal court.   | Photo Credit: AP

Tahawwur Rana, key accused in the 26/11 Mumbai terror attack, wanted it to be conveyed to one of the Pakistani co-conspirators a year after the 2008 attacks that he deserved a ‘medal’ for ‘top class’ contribution and that the “Indians deserved it,” papers filed by the U.S. government in a California court say.

Also read | Mumbai terror attacks: NIA claims progress in Tahawwur Rana extradition plan

The U.S. authorities told the court that “the Secretary of State, and not the Court, decides whether the fugitive should be surrendered to the requesting country”.

Rana, wanted by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) in the 2008 terror attack case, is currently lodged in a Los Angeles prison and awaits extradition to India.

Following an Illinois court order in June that commuted Rana’s jail sentence (scheduled to get over in September 2021) as he tested positive for COVID-19, federal prosecutors provisionally arrested him in the wake of the pending extradition request from India.

The extradition document, exclusively accessed by The Hindu, says that in September 2009, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) intercepted a conversation between Rana and David Coleman Headley, another prime accused that the “nine LeT attackers who had been killed during the attacks should be given Pakistan’s highest military honour”.

The 10 heavily armed men, trained by the Pakistan-based terror outfit LeT and officials in the Pakistan security establishment, launched coordinated attacks at 12 locations in Mumbai on November 26, 2008 killing 166 people including six Americans. The tenth terrorist — Ajmal Kasab — was caught and later hanged to death at a Pune prison in 2012.

Also read | U.S. court rejects bail plea of 26/11 accused Tahawwur Rana

On September 28, the U.S. federal prosecutors filed an “extradition memorandum” in the district court of California regarding Rana’s extradition.

“Referring to a 1971 attack on his school in Pakistan, Headley told Rana, that he believed he was ‘even with the Indians now.’ In response, Rana said they [the Indian people) deserved it,” the court document said. Rana and Headley attended military high school together in Pakistan and were close friends.

The Pakistani-Canadian citizen who was arrested in 2009 has challenged the extradition and filed a plea in the U.S. court on November 25, court records show. He was convicted for providing material support to the LeT in 2013. Unlike Headley, Rana did not enter into a plea bargain with the U.S. and he was placed under “provisional arrest” after he walked out of prison in June as the jail term that was to end in September 2021 was commuted.

Headley, a prime accused, had entered into a plea bargain with the U.S. soon after his arrest in 2009 and he cannot be extradited to India due to the “double jeopardy” clause which bars punishment for the same crime twice. Rana was acquitted by the jury at the Illinois court of conspiracy to provide material support to terrorism in India.

On December 4, 2019, in accordance with the provisions of the Extradition Treaty between India and the U.S., the Embassy of India submitted a diplomatic note formally requesting Rana’s extradition.

Also read | Pakistan-origin Canadian rearrested in U.S. on India’s extradition request for role in Mumbai attack

The federal prosecutors informed the U.S. court that “Rana cannot avail himself of the benefits afforded to Headley through Headley’s negotiated plea” and “Rana’s claim that the United States’ decision not to extradite Headley, his co-conspirator, to India is inconsistent and bars his extradition also fails.”

“Double jeopardy [for Rana] likewise does not apply for two reasons. First, extradition proceedings are not criminal proceedings in which the fugitive is entitled to the same rights available during criminal proceedings...The extradition proceeding . . . makes no determination of guilt or innocence. It is designed only to trigger the start of criminal proceedings against an accused; guilt remains to be determined in the courts of the demanding country,” the document said.

“….Second, the constitutional protection against double jeopardy only applies to successive prosecutions by the same sovereign. Unlike Rana, Headley immediately accepted responsibility for his conduct and pleaded guilty to all the charges in the superseding indictment. ..Because Headley fulfilled the required terms, the plea agreement established that Headley would not be extradited to India. Rana’s situation is different because he neither pleaded guilty nor cooperated with the United States,” the document said.

Rana, a Chicago-based businessman, helped Headley to open an immigration firm in Mumbai that was used as a cover to conduct reconnaissance on possible targets that were attacked in Mumbai.

The document said that in 2009, Rana and his co-conspirators continued to plan additional attacks in India and began to plan attacks of the Copenhagen and Aarhus offices of the Danish newspaper Morganevisen Jyllands-Posten, in retaliation for its publication of cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammed.

Also read | 26/11 Mumbai terror attack accused Rana not a flight risk, his attorney tells U.S. court

Excerpts from the “extradition memorandum”

Excerpts from the “extradition memorandum” filed by the U.S. prosecutors in the California district court:

Between 2006 and November 2008, Rana conspired with his childhood friend, David Coleman Headley also known as Daood Gilani, and others located in Pakistan to assist the LeT, a U.S.-designated terrorist organisation since 2001, to plan and carry out the terrorist attacks that occurred in Mumbai, India, between November 26 and 29, 2008.

Headley’s involvement with LeT predates the Mumbai attacks and on five separate occasions between 2002 and 2005, Headley attended training camps organised and operated by the terrorist organisation. “Headley told Rana of his involvement with LeT and the training that he had received from the terrorist organisation.”

26/11 Mumbai terror attacks | Key accused Tahawwur Rana wanted a ‘medal’ for ‘top class’ contribution

In the spring or early summer of 2006, Headley met LeT members and others and discussed opening an immigration office in Mumbai, India, as cover for his surveillance activities. “Headley and his co-conspirators agreed that Rana’s business would be an ideal front for their activities because it would allow Headley to travel freely in and out of India and to establish connections with powerful individuals in India.”

In or about June 2006, Headley travelled to Chicago, Illinois, and met Rana and told him about his association with LeT and his orders to conduct surveillance around Mumbai. After hearing this explanation, Rana agreed to open a Mumbai branch office of his business to assist Headley. The Mumbai branch of the Immigration Law Center was funded in part by one of the co-conspirators who helped plan the Mumbai attacks.

After meeting Rana in June 2006, Headley travelled to Pakistan and met LeT members and other co-conspirators and informed them of Rana’s consent to use the Immigration Law Center as a cover for his activities. He also showed them the five-year multiple entry business visa that he obtained with Rana’s assistance.

In or about September 2006, Headley traveled to India and conducted extensive video surveillance of various locations, including the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel. He later travelled to Pakistan and met LeT members and others, provided them the video recordings he had made, and discussed the video and surveillance he had conducted in India.

At the directions of the co-conspirators in Pakistan, Headley returned to Mumbai in February, June and September 2007 and conducted more surveillance of various locations. As he had done months before, Headley again travelled to Pakistan in December 2007 and met other co-conspirators in Pakistan near the headquarter offices of LeT. Headley’s contacts told him about portions of their attack plans and showed him a “Styrofoam mock-up of the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel.”

In May 2008, Headley met Rana in Chicago over several days and told him about the extensive surveillance that he had conducted in Mumbai. He also told Rana about the landing ideas (specifically where a team of attackers would land in front of the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel), his boat trips in and around the harbour, and his use of the GPS device. “According to Headley, Rana smiled and laughed when Headley told him about the landing site in front of the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel. Headley also told Rana about the Styrofoam mock-up his Pakistani contacts had showed him six months earlier. When Headley said he thought the mock-up was ‘terrible,’ Rana smiled and laughed.

Headley explained that the attack plans were being delayed, in part, to wait for calmer waters.

Headley discussed the Mumbai attacks with Rana in the months following the attacks. For example, in December 2008, Headley shared what he had learned from their co-conspirators in Pakistan and told Rana about the different places that had been attacked, reminding him that he (Headley) had made videos of those places. Referring to a 1971 attack on his school in Pakistan, Headley told Rana that he believed he was “even with the Indians now.” In response, Rana said they (the Indian people) deserved it.

Also, in September 2009, the FBI intercepted Rana telling Headley that the nine LeT attackers who had been killed during the attacks should get Pakistan’s highest military honour. Rana also asked Headley to tell another co-conspirator in Pakistan — a member of LeT and one of the planners of the Mumbai attacks — that Rana thought that he should get a medal “for top class”. When Rana learned that Headley already had conveyed this compliment to their co-conspirator, he was pleased.

The Mumbai bombings, however, did not end the conspiracy between Rana, Headley, LeT members and the other co-conspirators. In particular, in 2009, Headley conducted surveillance activities for an intended, but ultimately foiled, terrorist plot in Denmark, again using Rana’s business as a cover. Headley also conducted surveillance for potential future terrorist attacks in other parts of India.

As he did with his surveillance in Mumbai, Headley kept Rana apprised of these surveillance activities. Starting no later than 2009, Rana communicated directly with some of Headley’s contacts in Pakistan.

On October 3, 2009, the U.S. law enforcement arrested Headley in Chicago. Six months later, he pleaded guilty to 12 charges relating to his activities on behalf of the LeT and agreed to cooperate with the U.S. The Illinois Court ultimately sentenced Headley to a 35-year term of imprisonment.

The law enforcement arrested Rana on October 18, 2009. He went to trial in the Illinois Court, where Headley testified for the prosecution. The jury convicted Rana of one count of Conspiracy to Provide Material Support to Terrorism in Denmark, and providing support to LeT. The jury, however, acquitted Rana of one count of conspiracy to provide material support to terrorism in India. The trial judge sentenced Rana to a 168-month term of imprisonment, and he was scheduled for release in September 2021.

This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor

Printable version | Mar 8, 2021 2:47:39 PM |

Next Story