Recall: The case against Tahawwur Rana, the 26/11 plotter who was released and re-arrested in the US last week

India has sought Rana's extradition to face trial for conspiring to commit the 26/11 terrorist attacks in Mumbai.

On Friday (June 19), police in Los Angeles arrested the former Pakistani Army doctor Tahawwur Hussain Rana on a request made by the Indian government, soon after Rana had been released from prison on health grounds.

India has sought Rana’s extradition to face trial for conspiring to commit the 26/11 terrorist attacks in Mumbai.

India’s fresh extradition request

In 2011, the National Investigation Agency (NIA) had filed a chargesheet against nine people including Rana, his former school-mate and friend David Coleman Headley, Hafiz Saeed and Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi of the Lashkar-e-Taiba, al-Qaeda operative Illyas Kashmiri, and several Pakistan Army officials for planning and executing the attack in which 166 people, including several American citizens, were killed.

In 2014, a Sessions Court in Delhi issued fresh non-bailable warrants against the nine men whom the NIA had listed as being absconding.

However, Chicago resident Rana had been convicted by a court in that city in 2011 for providing material support to the LeT and Headley for conspiring to attack the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten as retribution for publishing a cartoon of Prophet Muhammad.

However, the attack was never carried out. While Headley, who too was convicted in 2013, entered into a plea bargain with prosecutors in exchange for a reduced 35-year sentence, Rana did not.

Last week, Rana was granted early release on health grounds from the Terminal Island prison in Southern California after he tested positive for Covid-19. Fearing that Rana, who is now in the final years of his sentence, would be freed, India pushed its pending provisional arrest request warrant and extradition request for Rana. After American authorities executed that request on June 10, he was arrested in Los Angeles.

READ | Bail for 26/11 attacks plotter will strain ties with India: US attorney

Rana, the man and the conspiracy

Rana, who is now 59 years old, studied at the Hasan Abdal Cadet School in Pakistan, which Headley too attended for five years. After a stint as a doctor in the Pakistan Army, Rana moved to Canada, and was eventually granted Canadian citizenship.

Subsequently, Rana went on to establish a consultancy firm called First World Immigration Services in Chicago. It was a branch of this business in Mumbai that provided Headley with the perfect cover to identify and surveil potential targets for the LeT.

Rana was arrested by American police soon after Headley’s arrest at Chicago’s O’Hare airport in October 2009. It was Headley’s testimony as a government witness at Rana’s trial in Chicago that led him to being sentenced to 14 years in prison, followed by five years of supervised release.

Headley told prosecutors that in July 2006, he had travelled to Chicago to meet Rana, and had told Rana of the mission that the LeT had assigned to him. Rana had approved of Headley’s plan to establish a First World Immigration Services centre in Mumbai, and had helped him obtain a five-year business visa.

However, while deposing via video link at the Bombay City Civil and Sessions Court in February 2016, Headley claimed that he had informed Rana of his activities only a few months before the attacks in November 2008.

Rana’s chief concern, Headley claimed, had been that no terror activities should be conducted from the company’s office in Tardeo in central Mumbai. Headley also told prosecutors in Mumbai that not a single visa application had been processed at the centre.

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Rana also provided financial support to Headley, paying him Rs 67,605 in October 2006, $500 in November 2006, Rs 17,636 a few days later, and $1,000 in December 2006.

Just before their arrest in 2009, both men had also agreed that the nine Pakistani terrorists killed in the 26/11 attacks should receive the Nishan-e-Haider, the highest military award for gallantry in Pakistan.

At the trial, Headley also testified that Rana had approved his travel to Copenhagen, Denmark, posing as a representative of the Immigration Law Centre, the business name of First World Immigration Services. Business cards had been printed to help complete Headley’s cover. The plan to attack the Jyllands-Posten newspaper, dubbed the “Mickey Mouse Project” by al-Qaeda, was, however, never executed.

During Rana’s trial, his attorneys accused Headley of being a liar and a manipulator. The men had been old friends, but the Pakistani-American Headley had a history of selling out friends and associates in order to escape with light prison sentences. During his 2016 deposition, Headley testified that he had sent his final will and testament to Rana before leaving for Mumbai in 2006. Asked why, Headley had said, “I thought it was a responsible thing to do in case I was killed or arrested. I wanted him to take care of some personal family matters for me.”

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