Rana ‘unlikely’ to testify in Chicago trial

By Uttara Choudhury

New York: Pakistan-born businessman Tahawwur Rana, who is accused of helping David Headley scout for targets for the November 2008 Mumbai terror attacks, is “not likely” to testify in the Chicago terror trial, his lawyer said on Wednesday. Attorney Charles Swift said Rana's defence team was still waiting to take a final call, but the chances of Rana taking the stand were slim.

Prosecutors on Wednesday briefly questioned seven witnesses, including five FBI agents who had helped search Headley's house, computers and his luggage after he was arrested at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport in 2009. They shared evidence taken from Headley and Rana’s computers.

Rana’s defence attorneys countered that any discussion Iqbal had with Rana would have related to their plans to work as partners. AFP

Some of Wednesday’s testimony centred on calls and e-mails Rana exchanged with Headley’s Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) handler Major Iqbal. In a July 2008 e-mail, Iqbal asked Rana if there was any “progress made on the project.”

Prosecutors claim Major Iqbal, who is on the run, was referring to the planned Mumbai attacks but Rana’s defence attorneys countered that any discussion Iqbal had with Rana would have related to their plans to work as partners in Rana’s immigration business.

Prosecutors plan to present their last witness on Monday before turning the case over to the defence team. Defence attorney Patrick Blegen said a computer expert and an immigration lawyer from Canada are among witnesses Rana's defence may call. Closing arguments could begin as early as next week.

With Headley's explosive testimony completed, the jury has heard much of the prosecution's evidence. As India has suspected all along, Headley pleaded guilty to plotting the Mumbai attacks and leapt at the chance to become the government’s star witness to avoid the death penalty and extradition to India.

Headley didn’t show much remorse during his five days on the stand beyond making a perfunctory statement about feeling bad about the methods he had employed to unleash mayhem on Mumbai. According to legal experts, Rana’s defence team did well to get Headley to admit before jurors to an array of omissions, double-crosses and lies while constantly working self-serving angles.

Headley was so eager to cooperate after his 2009 arrest that he worked with FBI agents to try to lure Mumbai attack mastermind Sajid Mir, a member of the Lashkar-e-Taiba out of Pakistan so that he could be arrested. According to testimony, Headley had also gone so far as to offer to travel to the tribal areas of Pakistan and present jihadi leader Ilyas Kashmiri with a gilded sword that Headley suggested could be fitted with a tracking chip to set up a US drone attack.

When all these schemes bombed, the defence claims, Headley implicated Rana in the Mumbai plot as he needed “to give up someone” to cut a deal with prosecutors. On more than one occasion, Headley testified that he used an unsuspecting Rana to commit crimes like smuggling heroin without his knowledge.

During cross-examination, Headley testified that he did not think Pakistan’s ISI top brass knew about the Mumbai plot, which he said was planned by his ISI handler Major Iqbal and the Lashkar-e-Taiba.

Published Date: Jun 02, 2011 11:30 am | Updated Date: Jun 02, 2011 12:21 pm