Tahawwur Rana guilty on 2 counts in terror trial

June 9, 2011 9:05:38 PM PDT
A jury has found Chicago businessman Tahawwur Rana guilty on two of three counts that he aided terrorist operations overseas.

Tahawwur Hussain Rana, 50, was found guilty on charges connected to a plot to blow up a Danish newspaper that had published cartoons offensive to Muslims. He was also found guilty on a count connected with aiding Lashkar-e-Taiba, the ruthless Pakistani terror group.

Rana was found not guilty of the most prominent charge, connected with the so-called Mumbai massacre. In the Mumbai attacks, Pakistani terrorists effectively held the city of Mumbai hostage for about three days in November 2008, killing more than 160 people, including six Americans. Rana had been charged in connection with the material support of that plot.

Around 4:30 p.m. Thursday in the Dirksen Federal Building in Chicago, Rana watched the jury enter the courtroom. Rana looked at his family, nodded slightly, and smiled.

The first verdict announced by Judge Harry Leinenweber was the not guilty verdict, followed by the two guilty verdicts.

"They would have gone into a newspaper in Denmark, and the effort was to kill people, chop off their heads and throw them out the windows, and given the backgrounds of the people involved that could have been very real," said Patrick J. Fitzgerald, U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois, outside the courtroom at the Dirksen Federal Building Thursday. "That arrest, we believe, may well have prevented a serious attack, and Mr. Rana is being accountable for that role, in addition to his role helping Lashkar."

Outside the courtroom, Rana's attorneys said they cannot explain such a split verdict: guilty of aiding an organization, but not guilty of helping the organization carry out its most potent attack.

"It's always difficult when you have separate charges that are tried together, because you're always worried that something is going to spill over onto another count or that the jury just decided to split the baby in half, as they say," said Patrick Blegen, one of Rana's attorneys.

Blegen said that the defense has 60 days to file post-trial motions attacking the verdict. They said they intend to file a quick appeal.

"We may have an argument that there are conflicting verdicts, but we need some time to review it and think about it," said Blegen.

Rana did not testify on his own behalf in the case. He will avoid a possible life sentence after being found not guilty of the charge related to the Mumbai attacks, but still faces up to 30 years in prison in connection with the two guilty verdicts.

"It's hard for us to be excited... when our client is potentially facing 30 years for basically buying an airplane ticket," said Rana attorney Charlie Swift.

"The message should be clear to all those who help terrorists -- we will bring to justice all those who seek to facilitate violence," said Fitzgerald, quoted in a statement released Thursday evening by the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois.

The jurors chose to leave the building without talking to the media Thursday evening about what went into their decision.

In court, Rana showed no emotion to the first verdict. There was no reaction from his family.

"I think he's in shock," said Swift after the verdict was announced.

Rana, a North Side travel agency and immigration service owner, was alleged to have been in cahoots with David Coleman Headley, a boyhood friend from Pakistan. They went to military school together, and when they both moved to the United States, according to the FBI, Headley recruited Rana for his help, his financing, and his aid in plotting overseas attacks, primarily in India.

Headley was the major witness against Rana on the stand. He was there for more than four days, providing detailed explanations as to how he enlisted Rana's help, what Rana knew, and how it related to terrorist attacks overseas.

The verdict represents a major victory for the government. The case is considered to be the biggest terrorism prosecution ever in Chicago.

"Today's verdict demonstrates our commitment to hold accountable not only terrorist operatives, but also those who facilitate their activities. As established at trial, Tahawwur Rana provided valuable cover and support to David Headley, knowing that Headley and others were plotting terror attacks overseas," said Todd Hinnen, Acting Assistant Attorney General for National Security, also quoted in Thursday's U.S. Attorney's office release. "We will not rest in our efforts to identify and bring to justice those who provide support to terrorists."

Rana's attorneys had considered him totally innocent of all charges, merely a dupe of his boyhood friend, Headley. Rana had pleaded not guilty to all charges.

Jurors began deliberations Wednesday. Closing arguments in the trial wrapped up late Tuesday. Rana, a Canadian citizen, Chicago resident and Pakistan native, faced charges that he helped Headley by letting him travel five times as a representative Rana's Chicago-based immigration business so Headley could scout out targets for the terror attacks in Mumbai. Rana was found not guilty on the Mumbai-related charge.

Headley, a Pakistani-American, is an admitted terrorist. In his testimony against Rana during the trial, he said Rana was fully aware of the plot and that Rana played a crucial role.

Rana's defense attorneys said during the trial that Headley is a liar and that Rana was not aware of any terror plots.

During the trial, Headley also testified that he took orders from Pakistani intelligence and a military group.

No sentencing date was set Thursday.

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