US man guilty in Danish plot, cleared of Mumbai role

Charles Swift, left, and Patrick Blegen attorneys for Chicago businessman Tahawwur Rana talk with reporters after a jury returned its verdict in Rana's trial on in Chicago. (AP)

A US jury found a Pakistan-born Chicago man guilty Thursday of plotting an aborted attack on a Danish newspaper and aiding Pakistani terrorists, but cleared him of any role in the 2008 Mumbai siege.

Tahawwur Hussain Rana, 50, faces up to 30 years in jail for helping the banned Pakistan militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) plan an attack on a Danish newspaper that sparked outrage by publishing cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed.

But the jury found there was insufficient evidence that Rana was involved in the Mumbai attacks that saw 166 people killed -- even though a key figure described how he had used Rana's business offering immigration services as a cover while conducting surveillance in India's financial capital.

Prosecutors hailed the verdict, which Rana's lawyers vowed to appeal.

"The message should be clear to all those who help terrorists -- we will bring to justice all those who seek to facilitate violence," said US Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald.

David Coleman Headley, Rana's old friend from military school in Pakistan, has been cooperating with prosecutors since his 2009 arrest at a Chicago airport and was the star witness during the closely-watched trial.

In a plot that reads like a movie thriller, Headley spent two years casing out Mumbai, even taking boat tours around the city's harbor to identify landing sites for the attackers and befriending Bollywood stars as part of his cover.

He once again used Rana's immigration service as a cover when he began plotting the attack on the Jyllands-Posten newspaper in September 2008.

Headley told jurors how Rana helped him pretend to set up a new office in Denmark so he could scope out the newspaper's offices by scheduling meetings with the advertising department.

The plan was to use Headley's surveillance tapes and notes to gain access to the building before killing and beheading as many people as possible, throwing the severed heads out of the windows to draw in the police.

The Copenhagen plot was eventually aborted, both because of the intense pressure in the aftermath of the Mumbai attacks and due to a lack of funds, weapons and manpower.

But not before the FBI was able to secretly capture a conversation between Rana and Headley in which they discussed the plot and plans for further attacks in India.

Dressed in white shirt and checkered olive blazer with no tie, Rana showed no reaction when the jury's verdict was read by the judge. But his wife, Samraz, covered her face as she cried in the courtroom.

"He is obviously disappointed," defense lawyer Charles Swift told reporters. "I think he's in shock."

Rana's lawyers insisted throughout the trial that he is a pacifist who was "duped" into letting his old friend use his company as a cover. The attorneys also said the prosecution lacked sufficient evidence to convict him.

Swift vowed to fight for limited jail time in the upcoming sentencing hearings, noting that if Rana had been convicted in Denmark of the same charges -- two counts of providing material support to terrorists, which each carry a maximum of 15 years in prison -- he would only face three to five years.

Judge Harry Leinenweber declined to comment on whether Rana should serve his sentence on the two charges concurrently or consecutively, telling reporters that it will take months for him to come to a "fair" sentence based on federal guidelines, the evidence and legal arguments.

The trial has been closely watched as it touched on alleged Pakistani military intelligence collusion with extremists -- a hugely sensitive issue after Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden's killing sparked similar charges.

Pakistan's powerful Inter-Services Intelligence agency has long been suspected of involvement in the Mumbai attacks, and three ISI agents were named as co-conspirators by US prosecutors.

Headley testified that the ISI's involvement in the Mumbai plot was limited to a handful of rogue agents, but that the agency worked closely with the militants of Pakistan's LeT.

The Mumbai attacks stalled a fragile four-year peace process between India and Pakistan, two South Asian neighbors and nuclear-armed rivals, which was only resumed in February.

Headley formally admitted to 12 terror charges in March 2010 after prosecutors agreed not to seek the death penalty or to allow him to be extradited to either India, Pakistan or Denmark to face related charges.

Fitzgerald told reporters late Thursday that it had been worth cutting a cooperation deal for Headley.

"We had to, because it's too important that we do everything we can to save lives," he told reporters.

A date has not yet been set for his sentencing.

 

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