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Major Achievements in the Courtroom: United States v. Tahawwur Hussain Rana & David Coleman Headley

by Patrick Fitzgerald
Former U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois

Neil H. MacBride, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia
Patrick Fitzgerald, Former U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois

Tahawwur Hussain Rana, a Pakistani native, who operated a Chicago-based immigration business was convicted on June 9, 2011, after a three week trial, of participating in a conspiracy involving a terrorism plot against a Danish newspaper and providing material support to a terrorist organization based in Pakistan. At the same time, the jury acquitted Rana of conspiracy to provide material support to the November 2008 terrorist attacks in Mumbai, India, that killed more than 160 people, including six Americans.

Rana, 50, a Canadian citizen, was convicted of one count of conspiracy to provide material support to the terrorism plot in Denmark and one count of providing material support to a designated foreign terrorist organization, Lashkar e Tayyiba (Lashkar.) He faces a maximum sentence of 30 years in prison on the two counts combined and remains in federal custody without bond. No sentencing date has been set.

Rana was the second defendant convicted among a total of eight co-defendants who have been indicted in this case since late 2009. Co-defendant David Coleman Headley, 50, pled guilty in March 2010 to all 12 counts against him, including aiding and abetting the murders of the six American victims. Headley, who is also facing a maximum sentence of life in prison, has cooperated with the government since he was arrested in October 2009, and testified as a government witness at Rana’s trial. The six remaining defendants are all believed to be in Pakistan.

Headley testified that he attended training camps in Pakistan operated by Lashkar on five separate occasions between 2002 and 2005. In late 2005, Headley received instructions from members of Lashkar to travel to India to conduct surveillance, which he did five times leading up to the Mumbai attacks three years later that killed more than 160 people and wounded hundreds more.

In early summer of 2006, Headley and two Lashkar members discussed opening an immigration office in Mumbai as a cover for his surveillance activities. Headley testified that he traveled to Chicago and advised Rana, his long-time friend since the time they attended high school together in Pakistan, of his assignment to scout potential targets in India. Headley obtained approval from Rana, who owned First World Immigration Services in Chicago and elsewhere, to open a First World office in Mumbai as cover for his activities. Rana directed an individual associated with First World to prepare documents supporting Headley’s cover story of opening a First World office in Mumbai, and advised Headley how to obtain a visa for travel to India, according to Headley’s testimony, as well as emails and other documents that corroborated his account.

Starting on November 26, 2008, and continuing through November 28, 2008, 10 attackers trained by Lashkar carried out multiple assaults with firearms, grenades and improvised explosive devices against multiple targets in Mumbai, including the Taj Mahal and Oberoi hotels, the Leopold Café, the Chabad House and the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus train station, each of which Headley had scouted in advance. The six Americans killed during the three day siege were Ben Zion Chroman, Gavriel Holtzberg, Sandeep Jeswani, Alan Scherr, his daughter Naomi Scherr, and Aryeh Leibish Teitelbaum.

Regarding the Denmark terror plot, Headley admitted that in early November 2008, he met with a Lashkar member in Karachi, Pakistan, and was instructed to conduct surveillance of the Copenhagen and Aarhus offices of the Danish newspaper Morgenavisen Jyllands-Posten in preparation for an attack in retaliation for the newspaper’s publication of cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammed.

In late 2008 and early 2009, after reviewing with Rana how he had performed surveillance of the targets attacked in Mumbai, Headley testified that he advised Rana of the planned attack on the Danish newspaper and his intended travel to Denmark to conduct surveillance of its facilities. Headley obtained Rana’s approval and assistance to identify himself as a representative of First World and gain access to the newspaper’s offices by falsely expressing interest in placing advertising for First World in the newspaper. Before departing Chicago, Headley and Rana caused business cards to be made that identified Headley as a representative of the Immigration Law Center, the business name of First World, according to the evidence at trial.

The government’s evidence also included transcripts of recorded conversations, including those in September 2009, when Headley and Rana spoke about reports that co-defendant Ilyas Kashmiri, an alleged Pakistani terrorist leader, had been killed in a drone attack and the implications of his possible death for the plan to attack the newspaper. In other conversations, Rana told Headley that the attackers involved in the Mumbai attacks should receive Pakistan’s highest posthumous military honors. In late summer of 2009, Rana and Headley agreed that funds that had been provided to Rana could be used to fund Headley’s work in Denmark, and the trial evidence showed that Rana pretended to be Headley in sending an email to the Danish newspaper.

The government is represented by Assistant U.S. Attorneys in Chicago with assistance from the Counterterrorism Section of the Justice Department’s National Security Division. Federal prosecutors in Los Angeles are working jointly with their counterparts in Chicago on the broader investigation into the Mumbai attacks. The investigation was conducted by the Chicago Joint Terrorism Task Force, led by the Chicago Office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, with assistance from the FBI offices in Los Angeles and Washington, D.C., as well as both U.S. Customs and Border Protection and the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Office of Homeland Security Investigations.