No Terrorism Enhancement in Sentencing of|Man Who Plotted Muhammad Cartoon Bombing

     CHICAGO (CN) – A federal judge ordered a 14-year prison sentence Thursday for the man who plotted against the Danish newspaper that published cartoons of the prophet Muhammad.
     Tahawwur Rana had been convicted by a jury in June 2011 of supporting the plot in Denmark, and of supporting the terrorist organization Lashkar-e-Taiba.
     Lashkar is known for its long involvement in the Indo-Pakistani conflict over the Kashmir region, as well as for carrying out a series of attacks that rocked Mumbai in November 2008, leaving 164 people dead.
     The group had also planned to attack the Jyllands-Posten newspaper of Denmark in retaliation for its publication of cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad in 2005. This plot would have involved murders and beheadings inside the newspaper’s office.
     After hearing a heated debate on Rana’s role in the plot Thursday, U.S. District Judge Harry Leinenweber sentenced 52-year-old Rana to a 14-year prison term and five years of supervised release. The defendant will not face a special sentencing enhancement for terrorism.
     David Headley, a co-conspirator who testified against Rana, faces sentencing next week.
     Rana, visibly aged and in poor health, sat silently throughout the proceedings, much as he had during his trial in May and June 2011.
     Two issues dominated the proceedings: the terrorism-enhancement question and whether the severity of the charges justified a departure from the sentencing guidelines range.
     “This was calculated to retaliate against the government of Denmark due to its support of the Jyllands-Posten newspaper, to lead to a fight to the death,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Dan Collins said.
     Rana’s side fought application of the terrorism enhancement by noting that the plot targeted only the newspaper, a private entity.
     Quoting Headley’s testimony, defense attorney Patrick Blegen said that “the whole purpose of the attack was to avenge the fact that the newspaper had made these cartoons.”
     He also characterized the prosecution’s strategy as a “trick,” and repeatedly accused the government of misrepresenting the transcript.
     Under its logic, “every crime would get a terrorism enhancement because every crime gets some government response,” Blegen noted. “This does not make every crime into an attack on the government.”
     Blegen insisted: “The point is now how gruesome the attack would be or whether it would include beheading and so forth, but whether it was an attack on the Danish government.”
     “It is absurd to say that the plot to attack the Jyllands-Posten was one to attack Denmark itself,” he concluded. “This is not comparable to 9/11 because it only involved private buildings.”
     Judge Leinenweber accepted the thrust of the defense position, ruling that “this was certainly a dastardly plot, but not clearly directed toward the government. It seems queer to me that an attack on a private paper on private property becomes an attack on government. The purpose was to intimidate the press.”
     Blegen also pushed unsuccessfully for a sentencing reduction that considered Rana’s allegedly minor role in the plot.
     Leinenweber concluded, however, that plotters cannot play minor roles when the crime is the plan itself.
     Visibly incensed, Collins repeatedly emphasized that Rana “wanted to give medals to all nine Mumbai attackers.”
     “How can you say that he didn’t celebrate?” Collins added. “He called it a freedom fight, but the U.S. government calls it terrorism.”
     Moving on to more procedural matters, Leinenweber declined to enter consecutive sentences on the counts. Whatever support Rana provided to Lashkar took place within the Denmark plot, such that they should be sentenced concurrently, he noted.
     This too drew objections from Collins.
     “He knew they had blood on their hands,” Collins said, echoing his closing argument from trial. “We need a strong punishment and adequate deterrence.”
     Blegen retorted: “No one would conclude that, but for going to the same school as Headley as a child, Rana would be here today. We shouldn’t ignore his good life up until 2009.”
     At trial, the defense sought to show that Headley had manipulated the upright and naive Rana since the beginning of their lifelong “friendship.”
     In fighting for a lighter sentence Thursday, Blegen emphasized Rana’s poor health and his wife’s inability to visit him in an American prison.
     He also noted Rana’s poor treatment in Chicago’s Metropolitan Correctional Center,, where officials allegedly failed to respond when Rana went into heart failure.
     “Personally, I am impressed by the grace with which Dr. Rana handled the situation,” Blegen said. “The conditions would have driven me crazy.”
     “He is a good man, and he got sucked into something bad, but there’s no risk he’ll do it again – none,” Blegen added.
     Judge Leinenweber’s final comments focused on the “difficulty of understanding” how “such a dastardly plot” could ensnare a person who had lived a life helping his family and community, as Rana had.
     “The mindset is so contrary to the rest of Rana’s life,” Leinenweber said. “But a long sentence will keep Dr. Rana from doing this again.”
     Character letters sent to the court by Rana’s friends, family and business associates also evince the paradoxical nature of Rana’s involvement with Lashkar, the judge said.
     Leinenweber spoke frankly on the issue of deterring others from similar conduct.
     “I’m not sure that anything I do today will deter people with a mindset to engage in terrorism,” he said. “I don’t think they care what happens to them.”
     A 14-year sentence represents the top of the guidelines range for the offenses.
     Prosecutors lauded the announcement after the hearing.
     “This serious prison sentence should go a long way towards convincing would-be terrorists that they can’t hide behind the scenes, lend support to the violent aims of terrorist organizations, and escape detection and punishment,” Acting U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois Gary Shapiro said in a statement.
     In an interview with Courthouse News and other media outlets, Blegen noted that Rana, a Canadian citizen, will almost certainly be deported upon his release from prison.
     “We had no chance to speak with him, so we don’t know his reaction,” Blegen said. “Obviously he’ll be pleased about the ruling on the enhancement, but not about the high sentence.”
     Blegen insisted that the high sentence did not take the Mumbai attacks into account since jurors had acquitted Rana of involvement there.
     Noting his great respect for Judge Leinenweber, the defense attorney emphasized that the sentence applied only to the offenses of conviction.
     Rana has 14 days in which to file a notice of appeal. Speaking with Courthouse News, defense attorney Charlie Swift stated that Rana would certainly appeal the convictions and possibly the sentence as well.
     The spotlight now turns to the Wednesday sentencing of Headley, one of the highest-level terror plotters to appear in a U.S. courtroom.
     Gauging the sentence, Swift said: “We’ll leave that to Judge Leinenweber. Probably life.”

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