CHICAGO (CN) – Prosecutors played highlights from six hours of recorded FBI interrogation to seal up their case Monday in the trial against a Pakistani-Canadian man accused of supporting the 2008 terrorist attacks in Mumbai.
In that questioning, Chicago-based businessman Tahawwur Rana claimed that he only knew operatives from the Lashkar-e-Taiba organization as possible “meat business” associates and Kashmir-based “freedom fighters” – not the perpetrators of the bloody 26/11 Mumbai attacks.
Since Rana has chosen not to testify, prosecutors played these video clips during testimony from the prosecution’s final witness, FBI Special Agent Jeffrey Parsons, who questioned Rana upon the latter’s October 2009 arrest. In the video, Parsons attempts to tease out the connection between Rana and David Headley, the Lashkar member who has admitted plotting the Mumbai attacks and spent nearly five days implicating Rana earlier in the trial.
Rana seems casual and diffident in the examination room, voluntarily waiving his right to an attorney and other Miranda rights. When initially asked about Lashkar, he rambles: “They used to be [Lashkar]… they changed to… or maybe there’s another organization…” He recalls rebuffing Headley’s attempts to indoctrinate him about Lashkar’s ideology, telling his friend, “There’s nothing [in Lashkar trainings] I couldn’t learn for myself.”
In the video, Rana also claims that he knows of Headley’s affiliation with Lashkar, which he understands as a group participating in a “freedom fight” in Kashmir.
Aside from its clandestine terrorist activities, Lashkar is known to participate in ongoing skirmishes between India and Pakistan in Kashmir.
Though Rana had contacts with other Lashkar members, he told FBI agents these were for “business purposes.” For example, the so-called Major Iqbal, a Lashkar affiliate and possible member of Pakistan’s much-maligned Inter-Services Intelligence agency, was trying to help Rana with a visa to return to Pakistan. Rana was unable to return to his home country because he had gone AWOL from the military years earlier.
Ultimately, Rana said he decided against working with Iqbal because “my friends are generals – I can ask [them] for this favor.” The two also discussed starting a meat-distribution business, Rana says.
Though seemingly far-fetched, the meat business corresponds with Headley’s earlier statements that dissociated Rana from Iqbal’s clandestine activities.
The allegation that, following the Mumbai attacks, Rana complimented Lashkar member Sajid Mir for his “tactical brilliance” has come up multiple times in the proceedings. Headley had said Rana compared Mir to Khalid ibn al-Walid, a famous seventh-century Muslim general. In the interrogation video, however, Rana says that he called “one of [Headley’s] friends” that name based on “operations in Kashmir… they were very successful. They were freedom fighters.”
On cross-examination, Parsons acknowledged that Rana “didn’t refuse to answer a single question,” and that Rana had used the phrase “freedom fight,” as opposed to “violent jihad.”
Afterward, the defense called a pair of witnesses to address Rana’s alleged connection to both the 26/11 plot and plans for an attack on Denmark’s Jyllands-Posten newspaper office, which published Kurt Westergaard’s controversial cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad in 2005.
First, David Morris, a former Canadian immigration consultant and current prosecutor at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, confirmed that Rana had hopes to do business in India or Pakistan independent of Lashkar’s activities. Morris recalled investigating prospects for Rana’s business, First World Immigration, in the late 1990s, long before Headley was associated with Lashkar or any other militant group. Morris and Rana also “talked about opening offices in… Europe.”
As this case has revealed, Rana did eventually establish a satellite office in Mumbai, which Headley used to plan the 26/11 attacks. Rana’s culpability hinges on whether the government can prove Rana sanctioned Hadley’s work instead of being duped by his longtime friend.
Morris characterized Rana’s business prospects in India as “moderately successful.”
On cross-examination, Assistant U.S. Attorney Dan Collins subjected Morris to a battery of rhetorical questions possibly intended to show that his testimony did not reflect on the true substance of the Rana-Headley connection.
“Now, when you returned from India, you certainly didn’t tell the defendant that you’d been partly responsible for a terrorist attack did you?” was followed by “Have you ever told the defendant that you’re disposed toward violence against cartoonists in Denmark?”
The second and final defense witness was information technology specialist Yaniv Schiff. The case against Rana has partly rested on data seized by the FBI indicating that someone used his computers to search terms relevant to Lashkar’s plots. Prior to August 2009, no searches took place for terms such as “Jyllands-Posten,” “Kurt Westergaard” or the like. Some took place afterward, however, when Headley came to visit Rana in Chicago and obtained access to Rana’s computers.
Rana’s defense and the government struggled to determine whether Rana ever viewed documentaries on the Mumbai attacks. Schiff noted that even if someone deleted his Internet history files, “unallocated space” on a hard drive could still contain evidence of online activity like watching videos. Many of the videos Rana may have watched were widely played by the BBC and other news outlets.
Beginning last Tuesday, a series of stipulations significantly shortened the proceedings. This continued today, as the parties agreed on the content of the Jyllands-Posten cartoons and other background facts.
These stipulations included an overview of what filings the Internal Revenue Servce has for Rana’s business, First World Immigration. Though Headley said he used his affiliation with the company as a cover for his Lashkar activities, First World never submitted a W2 or 1099 employee tax filing in Headley’s name.
This could undermine Rana’s defense, which partly rests on the claim that he only allowed Headley to use First World’s Mumbai office in the capacity of an employee and business partner.
Following stipulations, and outside the presence of the jury, U.S. District Judge Harry Leinenweber had Rana approach the stand and confirm that he did not wish to testify. Defense attorney Charlie Swift said Rana made this choice after he “was informed of the benefits and consequences” of testifying.
Closing arguments are scheduled for Tuesday morning.