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Tuesday, July 23, 2024 | Back issues
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Businessman acquitted of aiding 2008 Mumbai terrorist attacks fights extradition to India

The hearing focused mostly on the interpretation of the "double jeopardy" clause in the extradition treaty between the U.S. and India.

PASADENA, Calif. (CN) — A Pakistani-born businessman cleared in 2011 of charges he provided material support to terrorists who killed 166 people in coordinated attacks in Mumbai three years earlier went before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals Wednesday to fight his extradition to India.

Tahawwur Rana, a naturalized Canadian citizen, was convicted in Chicago in 2011 of supporting a separate plot to retaliate against the 2005 publication of cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad by Denmark's Jyllands-Posten newspaper.

He was sentenced to 14 years in prison but ordered released on compassionate grounds in 2020, when the Covid-19 pandemic was spreading through the prison system, only to be immediately arrested again in the federal prison in Los Angeles where he was serving his sentence per India's extradition request to stand trial in that country on separate charges he helped the Lashkar-e-Taiba terrorist organization to carry out the Mumbai attacks.

Rana, 63, asked a federal judge in LA to block his extradition, claiming that it ran afoul of a "double jeopardy" clause of the extradition treaty between the U.S. and India. Federal courts denied that petition last year, prompting his appeal to the Ninth Circuit.

The central question in the case, Rana's attorney John Cline told the three-judge appellate panel at the hearing in Pasadena, is whether the double jeopardy clause of the treaty "permits extradition of a man who was acquitted by an American jury for prosecution in a foreign country on that same conduct."

U.S. Circuit Judge Bridget Bade, a Donald Trump appointee, immediately challenged this, noting that the language of the treaty left open the possibility that Rana could be prosecuted in India for elements, or acts, of the overall offense, for which he wasn't put on trial in 2011.

"If the charges they bring against him are different from the charges here, isn't that acceptable under the treaty?" Bade asked the attorney.

U.S. Circuit Judge Milan Smith Jr., a George W. Bush appointee, also appeared skeptical of Rana's position, noting that rulings by other appellate courts suggested that that position wasn't "meritorious."

Bram Alden, of the U.S. attorney's office in LA, told the panel how Rana in a phone call "praised" the 2008 attack on the Taj Mahal Palace hotel and other targets, including bars and restaurants, over multiple days in Mumbai.

"It was their 9/11— it was a devastating attack," Alden said. "That is why India wants to prosecute this case and under the extradition treaty has every right to do so."

Rana was charged by federal prosecutors for allowing his Chicago-based business, First World Immigration, to provide a cover for an admitted member of Lashkar, David Headley, Rana's childhood friend and the government's star witness at the 2011 trial.

Headley, born in Washington, D.C. in 1960, pleaded guilty to the 12 counts of terrorist activities, admitting he helped orchestrate the Mumbai rampage and scouting out potential targets in Copenhagen. His testimony against Rana ensured that he wouldn't face the death penalty or extradition.

Prosecutors accused Rana, among other charges, of providing Headley with a business visa based on falsified information, so he could set up a Mumbai branch of Rana's company, allowing Headley to survey potential targets and landing spots along the coast for the terrorists.

If Rana loses his appeal, the ultimate decision on his extradition will be made by the U.S. State Department, which according to Alden, Rana has already asked to prevent it.

The panel was rounded out by Senior U.S. District Judge Sidney Fitzwater, a Ronald Reagan appointee, of the U.S. District Court of the Northern District of Texas, who was sitting in by designation.

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Categories / Appeals, Courts, Criminal, International

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