Jury selected in Mumbai terror case

AP News
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Posted: May 18, 2011 5:01 PM
Jury selected in Mumbai terror case

The 12 jurors selected Wednesday in the federal trial of a Chicago businessman accused of helping plan the deadly 2008 Mumbai terrorist attacks are mostly minorities and mainly women.

Eight women and four men were sworn in at the trial of Tahawwur Rana, who allegedly provided cover for a former school classmate to scout out sites for the 3-day siege that killed more than 160 people, including six Americans, in India's largest city. He has pleaded not guilty.

Opening statements are planned for Monday in the trial that has been closely watched worldwide as testimony may give clues about suspected links between Lashkar-e-Taiba, a Pakistani militant group blamed in the Mumbai attacks, and Pakistan's top intelligence agency. Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence, or ISI, has been under scrutiny since Osama bin Laden was killed May 2 outside Islamabad.

Few biographical details have been available about the jurors or the six alternates chosen, whose identities are being kept secret. More than half of the 12 jurors are black. Questions in open court focused on the jurors' understanding and views of Islam, citizenship and terrorism, issues that experts predict will come up at trial.

One juror, a white woman who said she had worked as a bank manager during a robbery, said she knew only a little about Islam.

"I have friends who are of that faith," she told Judge Harry D. Leinenweber, who is presiding.

Other jurors include a woman who went to a Catholic high school and an Oprah Winfrey fan who was allowed to miss proceedings for a day to attend the daytime talk show queen's celebrity-studded taping Tuesday at Chicago's United Center. It's Winfrey's last season and tickets to the final episodes are highly coveted.

"How was Oprah?" Leinenweber asked the woman, identified only as "Juror No. 31."

"It was nice to see all the stars," she said, smiling. The show included appearances by Aretha Franklin, Michael Jordan and Madonna.

Rana's attorney, Patrick Blegen, said he was pleased with jury.

"We got a great selection process," he said.

Prosecutors declined to comment Wednesday.

Several potential jurors who were excused during jury selection had said they couldn't be fair to the defendant.

Rana, 50, is Muslim. He was born in Pakistan, is a Canadian citizen and has operated businesses in a largely Indian and Pakistani enclave in Chicago for years.

Prosecutors allege he also helped plan an attack that never took place on a Danish newspaper that in 2005 printed cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad, which triggered protests. Pictures of the prophet are forbidden in Islam.

Rana's attorneys had said their goal was to seat a jury that would be able to make a decision separate from any current events or preconceived notions about Muslims.

The trial has received attention worldwide _ several reporters for Indian news outlets are covering the proceedings. The government's star witness is Rana's former school friend, David Coleman Headley, a Pakistani-American who pleaded guilty in the case and has admitted working on behalf of Lashkar-e-Taiba. He's also claimed to Indian investigators that the ISI was involved in the attacks, according to an Indian government report.

A female juror was dismissed earlier Wednesday, the third day of jury selection, after she said she didn't know much about Islam beyond television accounts.

"All I know I what I see on the news," she said. "I'm afraid."