Reporter's diary: The Tahawwur Rana trial

Reporter's diary: The Tahawwur Rana trial

A courtroom sketch of Tahawwur Rana (left).

New York:  He maintained he was innocent all along but in the end, perhaps the most damming piece of evidence about Tahawwur Rana's complicity comes from a phone conversation intercepted prior to the arrest of his long suffering wife in which she expressed that Rana was just like Headley. She stated, "Dawood (Headley) is absolutely crazy... Both (Rana and Headley) are alike (and) have ended up together. They talk nonsense all day, idiots. That's not how Islam spreads... Such as, 'kill him, he is not practicing like us - kill him, do that to him, do this to him, he is like this - look, how that woman is - is this how Islam spreads? Hatred spreads like this, not Islam."

US Federal prosecutors are seeking a sentence of 30 years in prison for Chicago businessman Tahawwur Rana. In June 2011, after deliberating for two days, the jury found Rana guilty of providing material support to Pakistani terror group - the Lashkar-e-Taiba in its failed plot to attack a Danish newspaper, for publishing cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad.

Rana's lawyers are seeking leniency for their client. They say 52-year-old Tahawwur Rana is a "kind," "compassionate" family man with no prior history of violence and no criminal record and so should get around 10 years' prison time. They also point out that he has already suffered a heart attack last year, while in prison awaiting his sentencing.

According to Rana, his childhood friend David Headley was a master manipulator who fooled him into supporting his terror activities.

David Coleman Headley or Dawood Gilani pleaded guilty to planning and plotting various terrors plots including the 2008 Mumbai attacks. The smooth talking Pakistani-American Headley has entered into a plea bargain deal with US authorities. In return for his testimony against accomplices like Rana he will avoid the death penalty, and won't be extradited to India, Pakistan and Denmark either.

In just one of the numerous twists in this fascinating case, while Tahawwur Rana was found guilty on two counts, he was acquitted on the most significant count of all - the 26 /11 Mumbai attacks - which was the centrepiece of the US government's case against Rana.

Moreover, two co-conspirators named in the indictment, Headley's ISI handler Major Iqbal and Lashkar-e-Taiba leader Abdur Rehman (alias Pasha) are still at large. Headley's wife Shazia Gilani, who the trial revealed was aware of the plot to attack Mumbai and even congratulated her husband on the success of the attacks, has yet to either be charged or arrested.

Tahawwur Rana could face 30 years in prison but all eyes should really be focused on the Headley sentencing, which is due next week. He was the mastermind - that is clear - and Rana is just a small fry. But can and will Headley really be given a just and harsh sentence given the fact that the US war on terror is far from over and his cooperation against groups like the Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Muhammed could still be required?

As ProPublica reporter and FRONTLINE correspondent Sebastian Rotella points out, "Essentially you have Headley an important operative and Rana, a low ranking associate here in the US. But the masterminds, people like Sajid Mir, who we know what he looks like, his voice has been broadcast to the world ordering murders, yet Pakistan remains unable or unwilling to arrest them despite pressure from India or the US or other governments. It's a remarkable and ironic situation."

Story First Published: January 17, 2013 09:09 IST

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