Mumbai terror trial defense done after 2 witnesses

AP News
Posted: Jun 06, 2011 4:40 PM
Mumbai terror trial defense done after 2 witnesses

Testimony in the trial of a Chicago businessman accused in the 2008 Mumbai attacks wrapped up swiftly Monday as defense attorneys called only two witnesses before resting their case.

Tahawwur Rana is accused of providing cover for longtime friend David Coleman Headley, who has admitted to laying groundwork for the rampage on India's largest city. Headley pleaded guilty and was the government's star witness, spending five days on the stand detailing how he worked with both Pakistani intelligence and a militant group as he scoped sites ahead of the attacks.

Attorneys put on only a brief defense Monday, calling a computer forensics expert and an immigration attorney _ but not Rana _ after federal prosecutors rested their case earlier in the day.

"I waive the right," Rana said when asked by U.S. District Judge Harry Leinenweber whether he wanted to testify.

Closing arguments are expected Tuesday in the trial that has been closely watched following the May 2 killing of Osama bin Laden by U.S. forces in Pakistan and amid suspicions that country's government may have known or helped hide the former al-Qaida leader. Pakistan has denied the allegations.

Jurors did hear Rana's words earlier Monday during testimony from the prosecution's final witness, an FBI agent who questioned him in October 2009. Prosecutors played short video clips of statements from Rana, who had agreed to speak with FBI investigators for nearly six hours after his arrest.

Rana could be heard in the clips recounting names and affiliations of others charged in the case, including members of the Pakistani intelligence agency known as ISI and Lashkar-e-Taiba, the militant group blamed in the attack.

But it was unclear from the statements whether Rana knew of the Mumbai plot ahead of time. Defense attorneys and prosecutors did not comment Monday.

Rana, a Pakistani-born Canadian, has pleaded not guilty to providing a cover story as Headley carried out surveillance for the Mumbai attacks and the planned an attack on a Danish newspaper that in 2005 published cartoons of Prophet Muhammad. That attack never happened.

Rana owns several Chicago area businesses, including an immigration law services center with offices worldwide. Prosecutors allege Rana allowed Headley pose as a business representative and open a Mumbai office while doing his video surveillance.

Attempting to show that Rana sought to establish business in Mumbai long before Headley traveled there, defense attorneys called a Canadian immigration attorney who testified that he conducted seminars about Rana's business in Mumbai in 1997 and that Rana had placed ads in five Indian newspapers at the time.

Though Rana is on trial, much of the focus has been on Headley, an admitted terrorist who was born in the U.S. and lived most of his life in Pakistan. Headley and Rana met as teens at a Pakistani boarding school.

Headley detailed through emails, phone conversations and testimony that he took orders from both the ISI and Lashkar ahead of the Mumbai attacks, and that everything was communicated with Rana.

He also testified about communications with Ilyas Kashmiri, believed to be al-Qaida's military operations chief in Pakistan and one of six others charged in the Mumbai case in absentia. Kashmiri was reportedly killed Friday in a U.S. missile strike, but U.S. officials haven't confirmed the death.

Headley's testimony revealed that Kashmiri, leader of a Pakistani terrorist group called Harakat-ul-Jihad al-Islami, had wanted to attack U.S. defense contractor Lockheed Martin because he was angry about U.S. drone attacks inside Pakistan.

Pakistan's interior minister said Monday he was "100 percent" certain Friday's drone strike killed Kashmiri, but did not say how his government knew Kashmiri was slain or if it had evidence of his death. Initial reports have turned out to be wrong before, including one in September 2009 that said Kashmiri had been killed.

Kashmiri's name came up just briefly Monday as attorneys and the judge discussed jury instructions without jurors weren't present. Leinenweber raised the possibility removing Kashmiri's name from some court documents, but no action was taken.

"What the jury is looking at now is Dr. Rana," said defense attorney Charles Swift. "Much of the world is following this trial not because of Dr. Rana, but it's now time to focus on Dr. Rana, not on Ilyas Kashmiri, not on all the other people."

Others charged in the case include an ISI member known only as "Major Iqbal" and Headley's Lashkar handler Sajid Mir.

Defense attorneys have hammered on Headley's reliability, talking about how he initially lied to the FBI even as he said he was cooperating, lied to a judge and even to his own family. They claim he implicated Rana in the plot because he wanted to make a deal with prosecutors. Headley's cooperation means he avoids the death penalty and extradition.

Still, experts have said the U.S. government clearly has confidence in his testimony.


Sophia Tareen can be reached at