Mumbai 26/11 key conspirator arrested in LA; faces extradition to India

Rana was convicted in Chicago of providing support for Pakistani terror group Lashkar-e-Taiba, which planned the attack

Mumbai 26/11 key conspirator arrested in LA; faces extradition to India

Tahawwur Rana. File Photo

Los Angeles, June 10

A Chicago businessman, who spent more than 10 years in prison for supporting terrorist groups, has been arrested in Los Angeles to face charges in India for Mumbai 26/11 attack in 2008 that killed more than 160 people, US prosecutors said Friday.

Tahawwur Rana, a Pakistani-born Canadian, was convicted of a crime related to the Mumbai 26/11 killings that are sometimes called India’s 9/11, though the US prosecutors had failed to prove a terrorism charge that connected him directly to the three-day rampage during his 2011 trial.

Rana, 59, was serving a 14-year sentence when he was granted early release from a Los Angeles federal prison last week because of poor health and a bout of COVID-19, prosecutors said. He was arrested two days later and remains in custody in LA because he faces extradition to India on murder conspiracy charges, prosecutors said.

Also read: Rana’s extradition will throw light on ISI activities: Special public prosecutor

Rana was convicted in Chicago of providing support for the Pakistani terror group, Lashkar-e-Taiba, which planned the India attack, and for supporting a never-carried-out plot to attack a Danish newspaper that printed cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad in 2005. The cartoons angered many Muslims because pictures of the prophet are prohibited in Islam.

Jurors cleared Rana of a more serious charge of providing support to the 10 men who carried out the attacks in Mumbai that killed 166, injured nearly 240 and caused $1.5 billion in damage.

Assistant US Attorney John J Lulejian told the court that the Indian government, as per the bilateral Extradition Treaty signed in 1997, has requested the arrest and detention of Rana with a view towards his extradition.

Lulejian said India has informed the United States that Rana is being prosecuted for a number of offences, including the conspiracy to commit murder, in violation of Sections 120B and 302, and murder in violation of Section 302 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC).

Rana has also been charged with conspiracy to commit forgery for the purpose of cheating and conspiracy to use as genuine a forged document or electronic record.

He made an initial court appearance on June 11.

On Friday, US District Judge Jacqueline Chooljian in the US District Court, Central District of California, scheduled his bond hearing for June 30.

His attorney has been asked to submit his plea by June 22 and the federal government’s response is due by June 26.

Lulejian said that the offences for which Rana's arrest warrant was issued are covered by Article 2 of the India-US Extradition Treaty.

An arrest warrant was issued against Rana in India by Poonam A Bamba, District and Sessions Judge, Special Court of India's premier investigation agency National Investigation Agency (NIA), on August 28, 2018.

According to the federal prosecutors, 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 Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) and Harakat ul-Jihad-e-Islami, both US-designated terrorist organisations, to plan and carry out the Mumbai terrorist attacks.

Rana was first arrested in Chicago on October 18, 2009. Thereafter he went to trial in the US District Court for the Northern District of Illinois where Headley testified for the prosecution.

The jury convicted him of one count of Conspiracy to provide material support to terrorism in Denmark, and one count of providing material support to LeT.

The jury, however, acquitted Rana of one count of conspiracy to provide material support to terrorism in India.

Rana’s lawyer said he had been duped by his high school buddy, David Coleman Headley, an admitted terrorist who plotted the Mumbai attacks and the government’s chief witness who testified to avoid the death penalty. The defence called Headley a habitual liar and manipulator.

Rana was accused of allowing Headley to open a branch of his Chicago-based immigration law business in Mumbai as a cover story and travel as a representative of the company in Denmark.

Prosecutors said Rana knew Headley had trained as a terrorist. Headley shared information of the scouting missions he conducted in Mumbai and of the Taj Mahal Palace hotel, where gunmen later slaughtered dozens of people.

Harry D Leinenweber, US District Judge for the Northern District of Illinois, sentenced Rana to a 168-month prison term.

On May 7 this year, Rana filed a motion for compassionate release in the US District Court for the Northern District of Illinois.

In his motion, Rana claimed that he has tested positive for the COVID-19, and his precarious medical conditions put him at the extreme risk of life-threatening complications.

Rana also asked the court to reduce his sentence and allow him to return to Canada.

Headley, who was born in the US to a Pakistani father and American mother, said his hatred of India dated to his childhood when his school was bombed by Indian military planes during a war between the countries in 1971.

His petition was rejected by Rebecca R Pallmeyer, Chief US District Judge for the Northern District of Illinois on May 18.

He filed a second petition — Renewed Motion for Compassionate Release — on June 4. Five days later on June 9, Judge Leinenweber granted Rana’s motion, reduced his sentence to time served and ordered his immediate release, while leaving intact all other aspects of his criminal conviction.

Rana was serving his sentence at the Federal Correctional Institution Terminal Island in San Pedro, California.

Given that he is a Canadian citizen, the Department of Homeland Security has filed an immigration detainer for him with the Bureau of Prisons.

He was formally rearrested the very next day on June 10. The Bureau of Prisons is currently holding Rana at that facility pursuant to the immigration detainer.

Luiejian told the court in his submission dated June 10 that a formal request for extradition from the Indian government, supported by the documents specified in the Treaty, will be presented and finalised within the time required under the Treaty.

Months after the Mumbai 26/11 attacks, Headley, who did not take part in the attacks, told Rana he was “even with the Indians now,” according to a court document. Rana said they deserved it.

Headley, who pleaded guilty to conspiracy to murder, was sentenced to 35 years in prison. As part of his plea deal, he can’t be extradited to India.

The 2008 Mumbai 26/11 attack was one of India’s most horrific terrorist attacks in which 166 people, including six Americans, were killed and over 300 injured as 10 heavily-armed terrorists from Pakistan created mayhem in Mumbai on November 26, 2008.

Pakistani national Mohammed Ajmal Kasab, the lone terrorist captured alive, was hanged to death on November 21, 2012. — Agencies

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