Mumbai terror trial in Chicago winding down

AP News
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Posted: Jun 01, 2011 6:42 PM
Mumbai terror trial in Chicago winding down

A Chicago businessman accused of providing cover for a longtime friend who helped lay groundwork for the 2008 Mumbai attacks will likely not testify at his own trial, defense attorneys said Wednesday as proceedings in the high-profile terrorism case wound down.

Attorney Patrick Blegen said Tahawwur Rana's defense team was still making a final decision, but that it was unlikely Rana would take the stand.

Rana is accused of allowing his friend David Coleman Headley, a Pakistani-American, open a branch of his Chicago-based immigration services business in India's largest city as cover so Headley could conduct video surveillance ahead of the three-day rampage that killed more than 160 people.

Headley, who has pleaded guilty to scouting sites in Mumbai, spent five days on the witness stand detailing how he received orders from the Pakistani terrorist group blamed in the attacks, Lashkar-e-Taiba, and the country's main intelligence agency known as the ISI.

The case is being closely watched worldwide, especially on the heels of the May 2 killing of Osama bin Laden by U.S. forces in Pakistan and amid suspicions that the country's government may have known or helped hide the former al-Qaida leader. Pakistan has denied the allegations.

Prosecutors called seven witnesses Wednesday, including five FBI agents who verified email and phone communication between Rana, Headley, and an ISI officer known only as "Major Iqbal," who is also charged in the case. One witness was a linguist who talked about the quality control behind translating the numerous recorded phone conversations between the men in Urdu and Punjabi.

The prosecution's witnesses were aimed at bolstering what the federal government has tried to prove _ that Rana knew and helped his longtime friend Headley conduct surveillance. In one instance, an FBI agent showed a 2008 email to Rana from an address thought to be Iqbal's. The message read "I wanted to know any progress made on the project, thanks."

Prosecutors have said "project" meant the Mumbai attacks and that Rana was in on it. But defense attorneys have said that Rana thought the email was strictly about the immigration business, as Rana was interested in expanding. Headley testified earlier that Iqbal provided money to open the office.

Government attorneys said Wednesday that they had one remaining witness.

Defense attorneys said their potential witnesses could include a computer expert and an immigration lawyer from Canada. Jurors weren't expected back in court until Monday because proceedings were moving faster than anticipated and attorneys said they had trouble rescheduling the remaining witnesses. The trial runs a four-day schedule with Fridays off.

U.S. District Judge Harry Leinenweber said closing arguments would be tentatively scheduled for Tuesday.

Rana, a Pakistani-born Canadian, has also pleaded not guilty to assisting Headley as he carried out surveillance for a planned attack on a Danish newspaper that in 2005 printed cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad that offended many Muslims. That attack never happened.

Headley, who met Rana at boarding school when they were teens, has been the government's star witness.

Defense attorneys have tried to paint Headley's testimony as unreliable and have hammered how Headley initially lied to the FBI as he cooperated, lied to a judge and even lied to his own family. They claim he implicated Rana in the plot because he was motivated by the possibility of making a deal with prosecutors. Headley's cooperation means he avoids the death penalty and extradition.

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Sophia Tareen can be reached at http://twitter.com/sophiatareen