CHICAGO — A Pakistani native, who operated a Chicago-based immigration business, was sentenced Thursday to 14 years in prison for conspiring to provide material support to a terrorist plot in Denmark and providing material support to Lashkar e Tayyiba, a terrorist organization operating in Pakistan, that was responsible for the November 2008 attacks in Mumbai, India.
The defendant, Tahawwur Rana, was convicted of the charges June 9, 2011 following a three-week trial in U.S. District Court in Chicago.
This prison sentence resulted from an investigation conducted by the Chicago Joint Terrorism Task Force, led by the Chicago Office of the FBI, with assistance from FBI offices in Los Angeles, New York and Washington, D.C. U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) also provided assistance.
Rana, 52, a Canadian citizen, was ordered to serve 14 years, followed by five years of supervised release, by U.S. District Judge Harry Leinenweber, Northern District of Illinois. "This certainly was a dastardly plot," Judge Leinenweber said in imposing the sentence.
Rana was convicted of conspiring to provide material support to a plot from October 2008 to October 2009 to commit murder in Denmark, including a horrific plan to behead employees of Morgenavisen Jyllands-Posten, a Danish newspaper, and throw their heads onto a Copenhagen street. Rana was also convicted of providing material support, from late 2005 to October 2009, to Lashkar, a militant jihadist organization operating in Pakistan. Lashkar planned and carried out the November 2008 attacks in Mumbai that killed more than 160 people, including six Americans, before initially planning the terrorist attack in Denmark in retaliation for the newspaper's publication of cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammed. Rana was acquitted of conspiring to provide material support to the Mumbai attacks.
"This serious prison sentence should go a long way towards convincing would-be terrorists that they can't hide behind the scenes, lend support to the violent aims of terrorist organizations, and escape detection and punishment," said Gary S. Shapiro, acting U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois.
"Today's sentence demonstrates that, just as vigorously as we pursue terrorists and their organizations, we will also pursue those who facilitate their violent plots from a safe distance. As established at trial, Tahawwur Rana provided critical support to David Headley and other terrorists from his base in the United States, knowing they were plotting attacks overseas. I thank the many agents, analysts and prosecutors who helped bring about today's result," said Lisa Monaco, Assistant Attorney General for National Security.
"It is my hope that the judge's decision today sends a message to those who plot attacks and those who provide the support to make the plots possible, both here and abroad, that you will be held accountable for your actions. Our mission, detecting and preventing terrorist acts and eliminating the enabling support provided by terrorist sympathizers, remains our top priority," said Cory B. Nelson, special agent in charge of the Chicago FBI office.
Rana is one of two defendants to be convicted among a total of eight defendants who have been indicted in this case since late 2009. Co-defendant David Coleman Headley, 52, pleaded guilty in March 2010 to 12 terrorism charges, including aiding and abetting the murders of the six Americans in Mumbai. Headley, who is scheduled to be sentenced next Thursday, has cooperated with the government since his arrest in October 2009, and testified as a government witness at Rana's trial. He is facing a maximum of life in prison.
The evidence at Rana's trial showed that he knew he was assisting a terrorist organization and murderers, knew their violent goals, and readily agreed to play an essential role in achieving their aims. The government contended that Rana knew the objective of his co-conspirators was to retaliate against and influence the Danish government for its perceived role in the publication of the Prophet Mohammed cartoons. In addition, Rana knew that the goal of Lashkar was to retaliate against and influence the Indian and Danish governments; he intended that the support he provided - enabling Headley's activities - would be used toward that purpose.
In a post-arrest statement in October 2009, Rana admitted knowing that Lashkar was a terrorist organization and that Headley had attended training camps that Lashkar operated in Pakistan. Headley testified that he attended the training camps on five separate occasions between 2002 and 2005. In late 2005, Headley received instructions from members of Lashkar to travel to India to conduct surveillance, which he did five times leading up to the Mumbai attacks three years later that killed more than 160 people and wounded hundreds more.
In the early summer of 2006, Headley and two Lashkar members discussed opening an immigration office in Mumbai as a cover for his surveillance activities. Headley testified that he traveled to Chicago and advised Rana, his long-time friend since the time they attended high school together in Pakistan, of his assignment to scout potential targets in India. Headley obtained approval from Rana, who owned First World Immigration Services in Chicago and elsewhere, to open a First World office in Mumbai as cover for his activities. Rana directed an individual associated with First World to prepare documents supporting Headley's cover story, and advised Headley how to obtain a visa for travel to India, according to Headley's testimony, as well as emails and other documents that corroborated his account.
Between Nov. 26 and 28, 2008, 10 attackers, trained by Lashkar, carried out multiple assaults with firearms, grenades and improvised explosive devices against multiple targets in Mumbai, some of which Headley had scouted in advance.
Regarding the Denmark terror plot, Headley testified that in the fall of 2008, he met with a Lashkar member in Karachi, Pakistan, and was instructed to conduct surveillance of the Jyllands-Posten newspaper offices in Copenhagen and Aarhus.
In late 2008 and early 2009, after reviewing with Rana how he had performed surveillance of the targets attacked in Mumbai, Headley testified that he advised Rana of the planned attack in Denmark and his intended travel there to conduct surveillance of the newspaper's facilities. Headley obtained Rana's approval and assistance to identify himself as a representative of First World and gain access to the newspaper's offices by falsely expressing interest in placing advertising for First World in the newspaper. Headley and Rana caused business cards to be made that identified Headley as a representative of the Immigration Law Center, the business name of First World, according to the evidence at trial.
The trial evidence also included transcripts of recorded conversations, including those in September 2009, when Headley and Rana spoke about reports that a co-defendant, Ilyas Kashmiri, an alleged Pakistani terrorist leader, had been killed and the implications of his possible death for the plan to attack the newspaper. In other conversations, Rana told Headley that the attackers involved in the Mumbai attacks should receive Pakistan's highest posthumous military honors. In the late summer of 2009, Rana and Headley agreed that funds that had been provided to Rana could be used to fund Headley's work in Denmark. The evidence showed that Rana pretended to be Headley in sending an email to the Danish newspaper.
The government is being represented by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Daniel Collins and Sarah E. Streicker, Northern District of Illinois, with assistance from the Counterterrorism Section of the Justice Department's National Security Division. Federal prosecutors in Los Angeles have worked on a broader investigation of the Mumbai attacks.