CHICAGO (CN) – In a tense, packed courtroom Thursday afternoon, U.S. District Judge Harry Leinenweber announced a guilty verdict against Tahawwur Rana, a Chicago-based businessman accused of providing material support for deadly plots around the world.
The jury acquitted Rana on the charge of providing material support to the bloody attacks that ravaged Mumbai for three days in November 2008, but it did convict him for supporting the plot to retaliate against the 2005 publication of cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad by Denmark’s Jyllands-Posten newspaper. The jury delivered a special verdict on a third count, finding that Rana supported Lashkar-e-Taiba, an organization on the United States’ list of foreign terrorist organizations, but that “no death resulted from” his conduct.
No jurors made themselves available for comments, and, on his way out of the courthouse, Judge Leinenweber told reporters that jurors’ identities’ would remain anonymous.
The trial against the Pakistan-born Rana began on May 16 and ended June 7. Rana eventually became a citizen of Canada, and faced charges that his Chicago-based business, First World Immigration, acted as a cover for an admitted member of Lashkar, Rana’s childhood friend and the government’s star witness David Headley.
Rana faces a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison for each count on which he was convicted and remains in federal custody without bond. Following the verdict, however, defense attorney Charlie Swift said Rana would argue that the sentences cannot run consecutively, for a total of 30 years, “because [the two convictions] are based on the exact same conduct.”
Swift also bemoaned American sentencing rules for terrorism defendants and voiced plans to appeal following sentencing. “Had Rana been found guilty in Denmark, he’d face three to five,” Swift said. “In the U.S., possibly thirty. It’s hard for us to be excited.” In that vein, he noted that Rana was “extremely disappointed,” and that “the family is dealing with it best they can.”
Judge Leinenweber said sentencing “will be in the fall.” Post-trial motions are due on Aug. 15.
Headley, born in Washington D.C. in 1960, pleaded guilty in March to the 12 counts of terrorist activities, admitting to helping orchestrate the Mumbai rampage and scouting out potential targets in Copenhagen. His testimony against Rana ensured that he will not face the death penalty or extradition.
This afternoon, Patrick Fitzgerald, the U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Illinois, thanked his team and noted that “it’s important for people around the world to know that we do have people in America who support such attacks.” He characterized the investigation leading to Rana’s arrest as a broad effort, involving agencies from the Chicago Police Department to the FBI.
When asked about the future of David Headley, whom many see as the real star of the case, Fitzgerald said “we are a long way away from [his] sentencing.” He also fielded questions about the six other defendants charged for their roles in the Lashkar conspiracy, who have not yet been apprehended and are believed to remain at large in Pakistan.
One of the most infamous of these, one-time alleged Osama bin Ladin successor Ilyas Kashmiri, is reported to have been killed by an American drone strike, but Fitzgerald declined to comment on whether Headley provided information that led to the strike. “I don’t know whether there was a drone, what happened with the drone, if he is alive or dead,” Fitzgerald said.
Another co-defendants, a man known only by his alias Major Iqbal, is thought to be an officer of the Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency.
His arrest would likely further complicate the already strained relationship between the United States and Pakistan, in the wake of bin Laden’s execution by U.S. forces in a Pakistan military town where he is believed to have spent years in hiding.
Fitzgerald also continued the government’s policy of, on one hand, distancing itself from Headley, and, on the other, justifying its decision to work with him. “[The prosecution] did not ask the jury to convict based on the word of Headley alone,” but on a variety of evidence, including Rana’s own interrogation.
And yet, Fitzgerald said, arresting Headley “prevented a very serious terrorist attack” in Denmark. When asked about allegations that Headley changed his story when Fitzgerald put the pressure on, the latter said “we did tell Mr. Headley that Mr. Rana had already been arrested,” but “there’s nothing inappropriate about that.”
“I am convinced we would’ve made a terrible mistake if we hadn’t sat down with Headley” and “got his insider’s view.” This took priority over “making it all about Headley” – that is, merely “putting him in jail.”
So far, the United States has nabbed at least one other Lashkar supporter and possibly killed another thanks to working with Headley. Rana’s case may be far from over, with sentencing and appeals already in the works, but Thursday, the story of his poisonous friendship with Headley drew to a dramatic close.