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The Chicago conspiracy: What is Rana's role?

November 13, 2009 17:20 IST
B Raman deciphers the FBI affidavit against Tahawwur Hussain Rana, the Pakistan-origin Canadian arrested with David Headley in Chicago for alleged Lashkar-e-Tayiba connections.

The affidavit filed by the Federal Bureau of Investigation against Tahawwur Hussain Rana, a Canadian national of Pakistani origin, who was running an immigration consultancy firm, a company for the supply of meat to Muslims and a grocery shop in Chicago, makes for interesting reading.

He was arrested by the FBI at Chicago on October 18, on a charge of being an accomplice of David Coleman Headley in plans to carry out terrorist strikes in Denmark and India. Headley had earlier been arrested on October 3, when he was about to leave on a visit to Pakistan to discuss the plans for the Denmark attack with Ilyas Kashmiri of the Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami in Pakistan.

The FBI recovered from his checked-in baggage video recordings made by Headley during two preparatory visits to Denmark after October 2008. The affidavit was filed by the FBI in the Northern District court of Illinois.

According to the affidavit, after his arrest, Rana made the following confessions to the FBI:

1. He was aware that Headley had been affiliated with the Lashkar-e-Tayiba terrorist organisation for the past few years.

2. He was aware that Headley had received training from the Lashkar.

3. He was aware that Headley had met with Ilyas Kashmiri within the past year.

4. He was aware that Headley communicated with Individual A and Lashkar Member A. (both not identified in the affidavits against Headley and Rana).

5. He was aware that Headley was angry about the cartoon depictions of the Prophet Mohammed.

6. He was offended by the cartoon depictions of the Prophet Mohammed.

7. He had discussed the cartoonist and editor of the Jyllands-Posten of Denmark, which had published the cartoons, with Headley.

A perusal of the affidavit against Rana indicates the following:

1. He enabled Headley to travel twice to Denmark as a representative of his immigration consultancy company.

2. He arranged air tickets for Headley's overseas travels.

3. He interceded with the Pakistani consul general in Chicago in an attempt to get a five-year visa for Headley whom he falsely described as a 'white American'. The consul general, Rana and Headley had attended the Punjab government's army cadet school at Hasan Abdal.

The consul general had known Headley by his pre-2006 Pakistani name of Daood Gilani. He did not know that Gilani, whom he had known, and Headley, 'the white American' about whom Rana had spoken to him over telephone were one and the same. Rana wanted a five-year visa to be issued to Headley without Headley having to visit the consulate.

4. Most of the contacts of Individual A and Lashkar member A were with Headley and not with Rana. Rana did have some contacts with Individual A, but not with Lashkar member A.

5. In the FBI affidavit against Headley, there are indications that he had visited India in the past -- between 2006 and 2008. In the affidavit against Rana, there are no references to any visits made by him to India.

6. In one of the conversations between Headley and Rana, a 'defence college' had figured as a possible target. It was not referred to as the 'National Defence College'. Nor was there any reference to its location. It needs to be underlined that additional information obtained during the interrogations of Headley and Rana does not figure in the two affidavits. The two affidavits largely summarise technical intelligence, which justified the two arrests.

7. When the FBI checked Headley's baggage after his arrest on October 3, they found video-recordings of landmarks in Copenhagen made by him during his two visits to Denmark. There is no reference to any video recordings made by him in India.

8. The affidavit against Headley contains references to his past visits to Pakistan. The affidavit against Rana has no reference to any past visits to Pakistan.

The identities of the two Pakistanis referred to by the FBI affidavit against Headley as Individual A and Lashkar member A remain unclear. The only clue figuring in the two affidavits is that Individual A was close to Major Haroon Ashiq, the principal accused in the case relating to the November 2008 assassination of Major General Amir Faisal Alvi, who headed the Special Services Group till 2005.

He was sacked by then president Pervez Musharraf on a charge of unworthy conduct, which has not been specified so far. The two affidavits also indicate that Individual A was also arrested during the investigation of the case, but was released subsequently.

A check of past Pakistani media reports relating to the case indicates that one Major (retired) Abdul Basit of Karachi was arrested during the investigation into Haroon's activities on behalf of Ilyas Kashmiri, but was not prosecuted. It is not clear whether Major Basit and Individual A are one and the same.

Another likely figure is Qari Saifullah Akhtar, amir of HUJI, whom Benazir Bhutto had suspected as behind the failed attempt to kill her in Karachi when she returned from political exile on October 17, 2007, but there were no Pakistani media reports of his having been arrested and released during the investigation of Alvi's murder.

It is, however, clear that Individual A is an important person, who enjoys the confidence of Ilyas Kashmiri and could speak with authority on Ilyas's behalf. Headley's conversations with Individual A clearly bring out his admiration for Ilyas Kashmiri and his preference for working with Ilyas than with the Lashkar.

He describes the Lashkar as an organisation with 'rotten guts', which is not prepared to take risks. This is apparently because the Lashkar is interested only in terrorist attacks in India and does not want to get involved in a terrorist attack in Denmark or in any other Western country.

B Raman