Tahawwur Rana facilitated David Coleman's foreign visits and was aware of his links to the Lashkar-e-Tayiba, writes strategic expert B Raman.
David Coleman Headley originally known as Daood Gilani and Tahawwur Hussain Rana, members of the Chicago cell of the Lashkar-e-Tayiba, operated in concert from Chicago. They were in personal, telephonic and e-mail contact with each other. They even took a drive in a car together on September 7, 2009, when they discussed their future operational plans in India and Denmark at the instance of the LeT and Al Qaeda's 313 Brigade headed by Ilyas Kashmiri.
The LeT had four future targets in India -- the Somnath temple, the National Defence College in New Delhi, and the film world and the Shiv Sena headquarters in Mumbai. The 313 Brigade's target was the Copenhagen office of the Danish newspaper, which published some cartoons of Prophet Mohammad in 2005.
Headley undertook his two visits to Denmark and five pre-26/11 visits to India posing as a representative of an immigration consultancy service, which Rana ran from Chicago. He had kept Rana informed of his posing as the representative of the consultancy service and asked him, after a visit to Denmark, to corroborate the statements made by him to his interlocutors in Denmark regarding his links with Rana's service. The fact that Rana agreed to this shows his concurrence to Headley using the cover of being a representative of his service for his operational visits to Denmark and India to collect pre-attack information. Rana booked the air tickets for Headley for his two visits to Denmark.
There is so far no information or evidence to indicate that Headley and Rana travelled to India together or were in India at the same time and were in touch with each other during their stay in India. According to Indian media reports, during a visit to Kerala, Rana had published an advertisement in a local newspaper offering the services of his company for intending Indian applicants for a US visa. Neither Headley nor Rana would seem to have indicated in any way that the immigration consultancy service in Chicago for which they claimed to be working was one and the same.
According to the FBI's first affidavit against Rana, on or about September 25, 2009, Rana spoke by telephone with the consul general at the Pakistani consulate-general in Chicago in an effort to obtain a five-year visa for Headley to travel to Pakistan. It was clear from e-mail traffic unrelated to terrorist plotting that the consul general knew Rana and Headley personally as all three attended the same high school. However, the consul general knew Headley as Gilani. He was not aware that Gilani, his old schoolmate, had become Headley since February, 2009.
In seeking a visa for Headley, Rana stated that he wished to obtain the visa for a white American named Headley who did not have any Pakistani background at all. When the consul general suggested that Rana send this white American to the consulate, Rana explained that he had sent his friend elsewhere to take care of some unspecified business and that someone else would visit the consulate.
The FBI told the court in the affidavit that "It is clear from the foregoing conversation that Rana was attempting to deceive the consul general into granting a visa for Headley without the consul general knowing for whom the visa would be issued."
One does not know whether the consul general agreed to this intriguing request of Rana. Even if he had done so, he would have noticed from the photograph in the passport of Headley that he was the same as Gilani -- unless Headley had changed his physical appearance when he took the new passport. Did Headley look different from Gilani?
Rahul Bhatt, the film actor, whom Headley had befriended in Mumbai, had said in an interview that the Headley whom he knew was different from the Headley whose picture was being shown on the TV. Rahul had been quoted as saying that the Headley whom he knew sported a pigtail.
According to the second report against Rana filed by the FBI in the court, he was in India in the third week of November, 2008. He flew from Mumbai to Dubai on an Emirates Airlines flight on November 21. He flew from Dubai to China by the same airline on November 24, and from there returned to Chicago via Seoul on November 26, by Asiana Airlines.
There is no reason to believe that Headley was in India during this period. The last of his five pre-26/11 visits to India was in July, 2008. It is not clear when Rana arrived in India in November, which places he visited and whom he met. It is also not clear which city he visited in China, what was the purpose of his visit to China and why his visit to China was so short.
Rana had admitted to the FBI that during his visit to Dubai from November 21 to 24, he met Major (retired) Abdur Rehman Hashim Syed alias Pasha who was in touch with Ilyas Kashmiri on behalf of Headley and that he came to know from Pasha about the impending terrorist attacks by the LeT in Mumbai.
Rana has sought to convey an impression that his visit (or visits?) to India had nothing to do with the 26/11 Mumbai attacks and that he came to know of the planned attacks only from Pasha in Dubai a few days before the attacks.
At the same time, it is clear from the papers filed by the FBI in the court that Rana personally knew both the handling officers of Headley in Pakistan -- Maj Rehman of the 313 Brigade and an unidentified office-bearer of the LeT. It is also clear that Rana was fully aware at least on September 7, 2009, if not earlier, of the LET's plans for future attacks on four targets in India.
Both Headley and Rana are equally important for the Indian and US investigators to reconstruct the 26/11 terrorist strikes in Mumbai, to identify the entire network set up by them in India and the US and neutralise the members of the network still remaining undetected and to unearth the future plans of the LeT and the 313 Brigade. The National Investigation Agency of India and the FBI should set up a joint team of senior officers to monitor the investigation in the two countries and get a complete picture of the conspiracy.
While one can understand the reluctance of the FBI to give access to Indian investigators to Headley, who is an American national and an informant of the US Drug Enforcement Administration, they should have no such hesitation in the case of Rana, who is a Canadian national and against whom there is no suspicion of his working for any US agency. We should, therefore, press our request for access to Rana.
The official and media focus in India and the US has been mostly on Headley. The required attention is not being given to investigating the role of Rana. The NIA should get from the FBI authentic pictures of Headley as Headley and as Gilani and of Rana, disseminate them widely through the print and electronic media and request those who had met and interacted with them under whatever name to contact the NIA.