CHICAGO (Reuters) - In final arguments to the jury on Tuesday, U.S. prosecutors said evidence was clear that a Pakistan-born Chicago businessman accused of supporting the 2008 attack on Mumbai knew he was aiding a plot that ultimately killed 166 people.
Tahawwur Rana, a 50-year-old Canadian citizen, faces charges of criminal conspiracy in the attack and of supporting the militant group blamed for the attack, Lashkar-e-Taiba. He could be sentenced to life in prison if found guilty by the jury in federal court in Chicago.
Prosecutor Victoria Peters dismissed Rana’s contention that he was duped by his friend, David Headley, and said he knew that he was advancing a militant attack.
“When it’s all said and done, this is a simple case,” Peters told jurors. “The defendant Rana is charged with supporting these plots.”
But in closing arguments for the defense, Rana’s lawyer, Patrick Blegen, said Headley weaved a web of lies that duped Rana, and even fooled the FBI. “He thinks he can fool everybody,” Blegen said of Headley.
The trial, on the heels of the killing of al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden by U.S. special forces in Pakistan, came at a sensitive time in U.S.-Pakistan relations. Ties between the nominal allies have been strained by U.S. demands that Pakistan do more to root out militant groups near its border with Afghanistan.
The star witness against Rana was his life-long friend, Headley, an American and a former U.S. drug informant who pleaded guilty to performing surveillance for the Mumbai attackers,
Headley testified for five days of the eight-day trial. He told of guidance he received from his contact with Pakistan’s Directorate for Inter-Services, or ISI, named Major Iqbal, from Pakistan Army Major Abdur Syed or “Pasha,” and operatives with Lashkar-e-Taiba.
Peters said Rana passed on a message to Headley. But Rana’s lawyer said Rana believed Headley was spying on India for ISI and knew next to nothing about Headley’s attack planning for Lashkar.
Headley said he did not believe ISI “higher-ups” were aware of the Mumbai plot nor of a separate plan, never carried out, to attack the Jyllands-Posten newspaper in Copenhagen.
“(Rana) is no dupe (as the defense contends). He knows exactly who Headley is and what he is about. And he approves,” Peters told the jury in U.S. District Court.
Blegen said Headley was motivated by money, receiving $28,000 by his Pakistani handlers and also payment for office expenses from Rana. As proof of Rana’s ignorance of the plot, Blegen said Rana planned a visit to Mumbai with his wife only six days before the attacks to boost the immigration business Headley was supposed to be operating legitimately.
Rana and Headley were recorded by the FBI shortly after the Mumbai attack discussing the raid and additional targets under consideration in India and Denmark, Peters said.
In a transcript of the translated conversation, Rana laughs about his foreknowledge of the timing of the Mumbai attack, thanks to a warning delivered by Pasha.
”He doesn’t say, “Oh my God, those poor people over there.’ He laughs about it,” Peters said. “Rana said, ‘India deserved it.'”
Rana, whose U.S.-based immigration business was used as a cover story by Headley, also praised the attackers and their Lashkar handler as deserving of Pakistan’s highest military honors.
Blegen argued much of the content of the conversation is ambiguous and jurors should not rely on Headley’s interpretation of what was said.
Editing by Cynthia Osterman