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Why Tahawwur Rana escaped the 26/11 Mumbai attack charges

New York: Pakistan-born businessman Tahawwur Rana, 52, was sentenced on Thursday to 14 years in prison for providing material support to the Lashkar-e-Taiba that worked with Pakistan's intelligence services to carry out the 2008 Mumbai attacks.

However, the Chicago terror trial’s verdict for Rana had been split. The jury on 9 June 2011 had found Rana guilty of providing material support to the Lashkar-e-Taiba and supporting plans to attack a Danish newspaper, but acquitted him of the more serious charge of helping to plot the 2008 terrorist attacks in Mumbai.

US District Judge Harry Leinenweber sentenced Rana to the 14-year prison term, to be followed by five years of supervised release. The former Pakistani doctor is a citizen of Canada, and faced a maximum of 30 years in prison after being convicted on 9 June 2011.

“This certainly was a dastardly plot,” said Leinenweber.

US prosecutors had expressed disappointment at the jury’s mixed decision but had requested a 30-year sentence for Rana.

Rana’s three-week 2011 trial, revealed strong evidence that Pakistan's spy agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate (ISI), played a direct role in a terrorist operation run by the Lashkar that was designed to kill Indians and Westerners.

A courtroom artist's sketch shows Tahawwur Rana (L) looking on with his lawyer Patrick Blegen during a sentencing hearing in federal court in Chicago. Reuters

It is easy to see how the Rana jury arrived at a mixed verdict. Headley testified that the Mumbai plot was a joint operation. He said he was directed and funded by Major Iqbal of Pakistan’s ISI and also had a Lashkar handler named Sajid Mir. During the three week trial, the prosecutors provided evidence to establish that Rana communicated with the ISI’s Major Iqbal, but they didn’t have hard evidence to connect Rana to the Lashkar which actually carried out the attack with its robot soldiers.

Rana's lawyers argued that Headley convinced Rana that he was doing intelligence for the ISI against India by monitoring Hindu groups like the Shiv Sena and he kept him in the dark about the Mumbai plot. The jury appears to have bought this argument.

From India’s viewpoint the Rana trial has blown the lid off how a growing number of serving and former Pakistani ISI and military officers have put their lethal talents at the service of the Lashkar-e-Taiba which systematically targets India.

Federal prosecutors used Headley's account to file charges against Major Iqbal, Headley's alleged ISI handler — the first time the US government has charged a serving Pakistani ISI officer with terrorism. Major Iqbal is charged with the murders of six US citizens who were killed in the Mumbai attacks. Pakistan has refused repeated US requests to arrest him.

During the three week trial, Headley delivered explosive testimony about how elements in the ISI were in cahoots with the Lashkar even though the ISI top brass was sleeping.

“If the ISI top brass didn’t know about the Mumbai plot and what its own ‘rogue officers’ were up to it is just as frightening,” said counter-terrorism expert Daniel Foley.

According to New York-based Pro Publica, which does investigative journalism, Major Iqbal remains a serving officer in the ISI, and accused masterminds, including Sajid Mir, whose voice was caught on telephone intercepts as he directed the slaughter in Mumbai, continue to run the terrorist group Lashkar-e-Taiba.

Rana's family attended Thursday's sentencing in Chicago, where attorneys continued to downplay Rana’s role in the terror schemes, saying Rana had been duped by his friend Mumbai plotter David Headley. They asked for a reduced sentence of nine years. The US government wanted an enhanced sentence of 30 years, connecting Rana to the Mumbai plotters.

Graying and bespectacled Rana, who wore an orange prison uniform, declined to comment at the sentencing. He has aged since his arrest in October 2009 and suffered a heart attack in Chicago's Metropolitan Correctional Center. As an accused terrorist, he was held for 13 months in solitary confinement, according to his lawyer, Patrick Blegen.

"We will appeal the conviction certainly, and we will discuss with Mr Rana whether to appeal the sentencing," said Blegen.

Judge Leinenweber handed down a punishment that was higher than the minimum 11 years in prison under federal sentencing guidelines.

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