CHICAGO (CN) - David Headley, who has admitted to plotting the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attacks, did not excel in religious debates, but he masterfully outfoxed others in more practical matters, according to the defense team for Headley's longtime friend on trial for supporting the attacks.
In his last day of direct examination by prosecutors, Headley recounted a conversation between himself and the accused, Tahawwur Rana, illustrating that Rana was comfortable discussing target details and the aliases of plotters within the Lashkar-e-Taiba, a radical outfit that carried out the Mumbai attacks and planned several others.
Rana's defense argued Thursday, however, that Headley created connections that did not necessarily have anything to do with the Lashkar's militant activities, but did further his efforts to recruit - or exploit - Rana.
Headley knew that Rana had long planned to expand the international presence of his Chicago-based business, First World Immigration. At one business meeting in Dubai, he presented the so-called Pasha as a potential partner. Like Rana, Pasha was a clean-cut former military officer and a lifelong devout Muslim. Headley admitted on the stand that, in private conversations, he "exaggerated the degree to which [each man] was interested in [the other]."
Rana thought Pasha could capably screen clients and make appointments, and the interest was mutual since Pasha needed a job for personal reasons, testimony showed. Headley admitted that the potential business was "absolutely not" for shuttling fighters or otherwise contributing to Lashkar's cause.
In email correspondence obtained by the government, Pasha asks after Rana, but also asks about Ray Sanders, an American business partner and immigration lawyer who is not suspected of any connection to Lashkar.
Rana also had preexisting business motives for opening offices in places later targeted by Lashkar attacks, including Copenhagen, site of the Jyllands-Posten newspaper, which published allegedly blasphemous cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad in 2005.
Headley recalled Rana saying that he "always wanted to have an office in Scandinavia," possibly before any attack on the newspaper came into consideration. Headley convinced Rana to let him scout Copenhagen for business opportunities. Headley's work was also overseen by Sanders, whose business cards the Lashkar member carried during his time in Mumbai and Denmark.
Aside from Rana's business interests, religious distinctions played a key role in the defense's effort to dissociate him from Lashkar. Rana never changed his Islamic denomination to that followed by Lashkar, which Headley describes as a version of Salafism. Headley noted that Rana not only refused to convert, but throughout Headley's efforts "was launching counterattacks, as it were."
Headley admitted that he could not outwit Rana in theological debates. When the Lashkar member appealed to Old Testament stories of Abraham's purging of idolaters as a justification for current violent jihads, Rana rebuffed him: "You have to follow the rules of the most recent prophet [Muhammad]." For Deobandi Muslims, this means taking literally the Quranic commands to never wage jihad without state approval, and to never target women and children.
Prosecutors had made much of Rana's alleged statement to Headley that Indians "deserved" the Mumbai attack, uttered while the pair drove out to Rana's farm in rural Illinois. But Rana's team pointed out Thursday that Headley appears to be lying to Rana in many passages from transcripts and audio. Headley claims that he was only speaking in code, which he cannot completely confirm that Rana understood.