26/11 conspirator & Headley’s ‘friend’ Tahawwur Rana could be extradited to India soon

A file photo of 26/11 conspirator Tahawwur Hussain Rana.
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A file photo of 26/11 conspirator Tahawwur Hussain Rana. | Photo: Twitter

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New Delhi: US authorities have re-arrested Pakistan-born Canadian citizen Tahawwur Hussain Rana, a key plotter of 26/11 terror attacks in Mumbai, paving way for his possible extradition.

Rana, who had been in a US jail, moved a plea before prison authorities on 1 May on compassionate grounds stating that that he was Covid-positive. He was released two days ago, but was re-arrested in Los Angeles Friday, following a request by India.

Assistant US Attorney John J. Lulejian told the court that the Indian government has requested the arrest and detention of Rana according to provisions of the bilateral Extradition Treaty signed in 1997.

Now, India’s request that is pending with the US authorities will be heard.

India had sought Rana’s extradition on charges of forgery and criminal breach of trust as he had allegedly used his immigration firm in the US for making documents that were used by 26/11 mastermind David Headley during his recce visits to Mumbai.

“It is a much-awaited development. This will kickstart the extradition process,” a source in the NIA said on condition of anonymity.

In December 2018, senior officials of the National Investigation Agency (NIA) had met US authorities and pressed for Rana’s extradition.

Then in January 2019, then minister of state (external affairs) V.K. Singh had told the Parliament that India was trying to convince US authorities to extradite individuals who plotted 26/11.

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Who is Rana?

Tahawwur Hussain Rana, who started out as a doctor in the Pakistani Army, moved to Canada in 1997 and opened an immigration business in Chicago three years later. In 2009, he was arrested the first time in the US on the charges of plotting the 26/11 attack.

Although US prosecutors could not prove his involvement in the 26/11 terror case, they established that Rana provided material support to Pakistan-based terror group Lashkar-e-Taiba for the 2008 attack in Mumbai and then helped to commit murder in Denmark, including a plan to behead employees of Morgenavisen Jyllands-Posten, a Danish newspaper.

In 2013, Rana was sentenced to 14 years in prison and five years of supervised release for conspiracy to provide material support to the Denmark terrorist plot and providing the same to Lashkar-e-Taiba.

He was convicted on 9 June 2011. While sentencing Rana, US District Judge Harry Leinenweber noted: “This certainly was a dastardly plot.”

According to a 2013 US Department of Justice document, Rana was found to have provided material support to Lashkar from late 2005 to October 2009.

“Lashkar planned and carried out the November 2008 attacks in Mumbai that killed more than 160 people, including six Americans, before initially planning the terrorist attack in Denmark in retaliation for the newspaper’s publication of cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammed. Rana was acquitted of conspiracy to provide material support to the Mumbai attacks,” the document said.

The US Department of Justice also said that it was established during trial that Rana provided critical support to Headley and other terrorists from his base in the US, knowing that they were plotting attacks overseas.

Rana was one of two defendants to be convicted, among a total of eight defendants who were indicted.

Headley had pleaded guilty in March 2010 to 12 terrorism charges, including aiding and abetting the murders of the six Americans in Mumbai.

Rana was also named as a key accused in the NIA’s December 2011 charge sheet filed against Headley and nine others for their involvement in the Mumbai attack.

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How Rana helped ‘long-time friend’ David Headley

In a post-arrest statement in October 2009, Tahawwur Hussain Rana also admitted to knowing that Lashkar was a terrorist organisation, and Headley had attended training camps that the group operated in Pakistan, according to the US document.

Headley too testified that he had attended the training camps on five separate occasions between 2002 and 2005.

“In late 2005, Headley received instructions from members of Lashkar to travel to India to conduct surveillance, which he did five times leading up to the Mumbai attacks three years later that killed more than 160 people and wounded hundreds more,” the document said.

“In the early summer of 2006, Headley and two Lashkar members discussed opening an immigration office in Mumbai as a cover for his surveillance activities,” it added.

According to US authorities Headley testified that he traveled to Chicago and advised Rana, “his long-time friend” since the time they attended high school together in Pakistan, of his assignment to “scout potential targets in India”.

“Headley obtained approval from Rana, who owned First World Immigration Services in Chicago and elsewhere, to open a First World office in Mumbai as cover for his activities,” the document said.

“Rana then directed an individual associated with First World to prepare documents supporting Headley’s cover story and advised Headley how to obtain a visa for travel to India, according to Headley’s testimony, as well as e-mails and other documents that corroborated his account,” it said.

Involvement in the Denmark plot

For the Denmark terror plot, Headley testified that in the fall of 2008, he met with a Lashkar-Taiba member in Karachi, Pakistan, and was instructed to conduct surveillance of the Jyllands-Posten offices in Copenhagen and Aarhus, the US document said.

Headley also said that in late 2008 and early 2009, after reviewing with Tahawwur Hussain Rana how he had performed surveillance of the targets attacked in Mumbai, he advised Rana on the planned attack in Denmark.

“Headley obtained Rana’s approval and assistance to identify himself as a representative of First World and gain access to the newspaper’s offices by falsely expressing interest in placing advertising for First World in the newspaper,” the document said.

“Headley and Rana caused business cards to be made that identified Headley as a representative of the Immigration Law Center, the business name of First World, according to the evidence at trial,” it added.

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