Illinois Defense calls jury's split verdict in terror trial 'conflicting' Businessman convicted of supporting terrorist organization, faces 30 years

By Sophia Tareen

Associated Press

CHICAGO (AP) -- A Chicago businessman was cleared of cooperating in the deadly 2008 Mumbai terrorist attacks but convicted of supporting the terrorist organization that took credit for the attack on India's largest city -- a verdict that defense attorneys called "conflicting."

The jury reached its split verdict Thursday after two days of deliberations, finding Tahawwur Rana guilty of providing material support to the Pakistani militant group, Lashkar-e-Taiba, and for a plot that never took place on a Danish newspaper that in 2005 printed cartoons of Prophet Muhammad.

The jurors, who were not identified in court, declined to talk with reporters to explain their decision. Rana, a Canadian national who has lived in Chicago for years, faces up to 30 years in prison on the two charges.

Defense attorneys planned to file post-trial motions challenging the verdict.

"We have an argument that there were conflicting verdicts," said defense attorney Patrick Blegen. He later added, "We're extremely disappointed. We think they got it wrong."

At the center of the trial was testimony from the government's top witness, David Coleman Headley, Rana's longtime friend who previously pleaded guilty to laying the groundwork for the Mumbai attacks and planning to attack the Danish paper in retaliation for printing the cartoons that had angered many Muslims because pictures of the prophet are prohibited in Islam. That plot was never carried out.

Headley's testimony was closely watched worldwide because it provided a rare glimpse into the inner workings of the Pakistani militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba, which took credit for the Mumbai attacks, and the alleged cooperation with Pakistan's top intelligence agency known as the ISI. The trial started just weeks after Navy SEALs found Osama bin Laden hiding outside Islamabad, raising concerns that Pakistan may have been protecting the world's most wanted terrorist.

Pakistan's government has denied the allegations and maintained it did not know about bin Laden or help plan the Mumbai attacks.

Ujjawal Nikam, the special public prosecutor in the Mumbai attack trial in India, said he was disappointed with the verdict and agreed with Rana's defense attorneys that the verdict seemed conflicting.

"When Rana has been held guilty of assisting the Lashkar-e-Taiba and guilty of supporting terrorist acts in Denmark how have they separated him from the Mumbai attacks?" he said. "It appears that there are some apparent contradictions in this verdict."

India's internal security chief, U.K. Bansal, said the government was looking at the verdict and moving forward with its own investigation.

"I don't see it as a setback because our own case is still under investigation. The judicial systems in both countries are different. We will be presenting our evidence before our own courts," Bansal said.

Defense attorneys spent much of their time trying to discredit Headley, who they claim duped his friend from a Pakistani boarding school. They attacked Headley's character saying he initially lied to the FBI, lied to a judge and even lied to his own family. They claimed he implicated Rana in the plot because he wanted to make a deal with prosecutors, a technique he learned after he became an informant for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration after two heroin convictions. His cooperation means he avoids the death penalty and extradition.

But prosecutors claimed that Rana, 50, knew exactly what he was doing when he helped Headley. Rana, who did not testify, was on trial for allegedly allowing Headley to open a branch of his Chicago-based immigration law services business in Mumbai as a cover story while Headley conducted surveillance ahead of the November 2008 attacks. He was also accused of letting Headley travel as a representative of the company in Copenhagen.

Prosecutors made a Sept. 7, 2009, recorded phone call between Rana and Headley the centerpiece of their evidence against Rana. In the call, the men discussed the Mumbai attacks and Headley talked about future targets, including the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten.

U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald said he was gratified by the jury's decision and disagreed with defense attorneys who said the verdict was conflicting because Rana was convicted of supporting Lashkar-e-Taiba but acquitted of charges that he helped in the Mumbai attacks.

"There's lots of ways you could explain it, but I haven't spoken to the jury," Fitzgerald said. "There was clearly evidence that he knew he was working with Lashkar."

He cited Rana's post-arrest statement to the FBI where he said he knew Headley had trained with Lashkar, which the U.S. has declared a terrorist organization.

Six others are charged in absentia in the case, including Headley's Lashkar handler Sajid Mir, an ISI member known only as "Major Iqbal" and Ilyas Kashmiri, whom U.S. officials believed to be al-Qaida's military operations chief in Pakistan and who was reportedly killed earlier this month.

Fitzgerald said prosecutors would continue their case against the others but did not discuss details.

While much of Headley's testimony had been heard before -- both through the indictment and a report released by the Indian government last year -- he did reveal a few new details. Among them was that Kashmiri had plotted to attack U.S. defense contractor Lockheed Martin. Kashmiri, the leader of another terrorist group, Harakat-ul-Jihad al-Islami, was reported killed on June 3 by U.S. drone attacks inside Pakistan. While U.S. officials haven't confirmed the death, Pakistani officials say they're certain Kashmiri is dead.

Headley said he worked with Kashmiri in the plot against the Danish paper, describing how the militant wanted a "stronghold approach." One plan included taking hostages in the building and killing them quickly by beheading them.

"He said we should throw out the heads of the hostages from the windows," Headley said of Kashmiri, speaking in a monotone and seemingly detached voice. "He said shoot them first and then behead them later, so there wouldn't be a struggle."

Published: Mon, Jun 13, 2011