Chicago’s link to one of the deadliest international terrorist attacks takes center stage Monday when a local businessman goes on trial here for allegedly aiding in Pakistani terrorists’ plan to commit mass murder in Mumbai, India’s largest city.
The U.S.-led prosecution of Tahawwur Hussain Rana will showcase the bloody efforts of a Pakistani terror group at a time when relations with Pakistan are particularly troubled following the killing of al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden in a fortified compound not far from Pakistan’s capital.
The trial’s star witness is expected to be David Coleman Headley, who, according to court documents, has alleged that one of his accomplices in the Mumbai attack worked for Pakistan’s intelligence agency. He pleaded guilty to avoid the death penalty.
Such politically charged testimony might steal headlines, but a former federal prosecutor said the more compelling aspect is the local connection to a major international plot.
“The U.S. dedicated a lot of resources (to the Rana case) even though prosecutors don’t allege that the U.S. was specifically a target,” said John Kocoras, who prosecuted terrorism cases in Chicago before going into private practice. “It shows U.S. commitment to stomping out terrorist activity.”
Some 170 people were killed when terrorists armed with guns and explosives carried out a series of attacks at hotels and other locations in Mumbai over several days in 2008. Six U.S. citizens were among the slain.
Rana is also charged with aiding in a terrorist plot to attack a newspaper in Denmark after it published unflattering cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad that inflamed much of the Muslim world.
Rana, a Pakistani native who owned an immigration business in Chicago, is charged with letting Headley use the business as cover to travel abroad on scouting trips in connection with both plots. The two had become friends while attending military school in Pakistan in their youth.
Rana has denied all involvement.
Six others have been charged, but all are considered fugitives, so Rana is the lone defendant on trial.
Jury selection is set to begin Monday and is expected to take up much of the week. Opening statements won’t be given before May 23.
Security has been increased at the Dirksen U.S. Courthouse in anticipation of the trial, which has drawn interest from journalists internationally.
“Security measures have been planned and are in place,” John O’Malley, chief deputy U.S. marshal, said without elaborating.
(Source: Chicago Tribune)