Chicago/New Delhi/Bangalore: In a verdict that “disappointed” India, a US jury cleared Pakistan-born Canadian Tahawwur Rana of charges that he helped with the 26/11 Mumbai attack but convicted him of supporting the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), the Islamist militant group New Delhi blames for the carnage.
The Indian government stressed it was still carrying out investigations against Rana, but the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) said New Delhi had not done enough to get him convicted for the Mumbai attack and wanted an appeal filed against the verdict.
Rana, 50, was held “not guilty” by a jury in the famed Dirksen Federal Courthouse in Chicago Thursday, bringing some relief to the terror suspect and his family present.
It was a major victory for the defense as being held guilty would have meant life in prison.
As Judge Harry D. Leinenweber acquitted him for the 2008 slaughter of 166 people, including six Americans, in Mumbai, his wife, mother and daughters huddled together in prayer in the court.
But the verdict disappointed the Indian government, which had been monitoring the court proceedings to file charges in India against Rana and his close friend David Coleman Headley, who has confessed to filming 26/11 terror sites and other potential terror targets. “We are disappointed that Rana was acquitted on the count of conspiracy to provide material support to the Mumbai terrorist attack,” U.K. Bansal, secretary (Internal Security) in the Home Ministry, told reporters in New Delhi.
Bansal said the National Investigation Agency (NIA), probing the case in India against Headley and Rana, was waiting for the proceedings to conclude before filing charges against them in India.
“The NIA has sought documents and evidence produced in the US court and expects to receive them,” he said. Bansal said the US court verdict comes despite evidence produced in the US court that Headley had advised Rana of his assignment to scout targets in India. “Headley obtained Rana’s consent to open an office of First World Immigration Services as a cover for his activities. Rana advised Headley on how to obtain a visa for travel to India. Headley and Rana had reviewed (the) surveillance of the targets attacked in Mumbai,” the Indian official said.
He said Rana had told Headley that the terrorists killed in Mumbai should “receive Pakistan’s highest military honors posthumously”.
India also accused Pakistan of “not playing fair with us” and blocking the Mumbai trial. “Yes, of course it did,” External Affairs Minister Somanahalli Mallaiah Krishna told reporters in Bangalore when asked if India believed that the trial in the US had hit a roadblock because of Pakistan.
“Pakistan has not been playing fair with us. And we would expect in the larger interest of our bilateral relationship Pakistan, must come clean on this issue,” Krishna told reporters in Bangalore.
Krishna pointed out that the trial in the US court had established substantial linkages between Rana and David Coleman Headley who has disclosed links between Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and the Mumbai terror attack. “The fact remains that throughout the last few months when the trial was going and in reports of evidence there were substantial linkages between these two facing trial in the Mumbai attack. This is something which Pakistan must very seriously consider,” he said.
The minister sought a transparent probe into the Mumbai attack in Pakistan. “It is something Pakistan must consider seriously. It is in its own interest and in the interest of the region and that of the bilateral relations that the conspiracy which began in Mumbai attack has to be investigated in a transparent manner,” Krishna said.
The minister said the acquittal of Rana was not satisfying for India. “The judicial process has taken its view, a particular view, which we may not be very satisfied with,” he said about the ruling that has “disappointed” India.
Krishna stressed that India could not do much about getting Rana convicted in the US but would pursue his case in India. “You cannot dictate to the judicial process. Well that is the law of the land, you are dealing with a foreign country and naturally you have to pursue further.”
Krishna’s reminder to Pakistan to come clean on Mumbai terror comes even as the foreign secretaries of India and Pakistan gear up for talks towards the end of the month. The talks between top diplomats could set the stage for talks between the foreign ministers of the two countries, the first such meeting at that level since the failed talks in mid-July last year.
Krishna said Islamabad must bring the perpetrators of the Mumbai attack in that country to justice in the backdrop of revelations by Headley that he was funded by Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) to scout terror targets in India.
The opposition in India lashed out at the Congress-led government for not doing enough to get Rana convicted over the Mumbai attack. The BJP questioned if the verdict was an outcome of an alleged deal between the US’ Federal Bureau of Investigation and the ISI. “This question is very critical because the ISI was clearly in the dock,” BJP chief spokesperson Ravi Shankar Prasad said.
“The US declaring Tahawwur Rana innocent (for) Mumbai has disgraced the sovereignty of India. It is a major foreign policy setback,” Gujarat’s BJP Chief Minister Narendra Modi tweeted.
However, Rana, a former Pakistani military doctor, was found guilty of helping the LeT and providing cover and material support to an attempted plot to kill a Danish cartoonist for his ‘offensive’ cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed. Rana is expected to be sentenced later. He faces up to 30 years in prison.
US Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald said he was disappointed that Rana was not found guilty in connection with the serious charge of assisting in the Mumbai attack, the Chicago Sun Times said. “Rana provided valuable cover and support to David Headly,” said Todd Hinnen, the acting assistant attorney general for national security.
Rana had little reaction, but his family wept quietly and hung their heads after the guilty verdict was pronounced, the Chicago Tribunesaid. Outside the courtroom, Rana’s attorneys, Charles Swift and Patrick Blegen, said he was in shock, the Sun Times said.
During the two-week trial, prosecution’s star witness Headley, who has pleaded guilty for his role in the Mumbai attack and the Denmark plot, claimed Pakistan’s ISI intelligence agency and LeT separately gave him identical instructions to scout locations to be attacked.
Rana’s terrorism trial revealed the impunity with which officers in Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and terrorists alike operate in Pakistan, according to ProPublica, an investigative news group. The case also showed how a growing number of serving and former Pakistani military officers have put their lethal talents at the service of Lashkar-e-Taiba terror group behind the 2008 Mumbai attacks, Al Qaeda and other groups, it said analyzing the implications of the trial that ended Thursday.
Confessed American terrorist and Pakistani spy David Coleman Headley, ProPublica noted delivered explosive revelations about how ISI officers funded, supported and directed the 26/11 Mumbai attacks along with the LeT.
The trial also left enduring mysteries, ProPublica said noting it did not answer questions about whether Sajid Mir, a Lashkar mastermind caught on tape directing the slaughter in Mumbai by phone, was once a Pakistani military officer. It did not explore the extent to which ISI chiefs beyond Headley’s handler, known only as Major Iqbal, were aware of the Mumbai plot.
Headley testified that he believed top ISI leadership was not aware, but he also said he thought Iqbal’s commanding officer and his unit of the spy agency knew about the operation, the investigative group noted.
Describing Rana’s conviction on two of three counts as a “small victory”, ProPublica noted Washington has been pressing Pakistan for more than a year to arrest Major Iqbal as well as Mir and a half-a-dozen other Lashkar chiefs who have been implicated as masterminds. Despite abundant evidence and the US federal indictment, the Pakistani government has not pursued those fugitives. They are not in hiding and continue to be involved in terrorist plotting, it said citing US investigators.
Lashkar is simply too powerful and too close to the Pakistani security forces, according to Western and Indian counter-terrorism officials cited by ProPublica.