New Delhi: A US court ruled on Thursday that there wasn’t enough evidence to find Pakistani-Canadian Tahawwur Rana guilty of involvement in the 26 November 2008 terrorist attack in Mumbai that left 166 people dead, including six Americans, marking a setback for investigators.
The ruling is likely to have a bearing on six other Pakistani-based defendants in the case, including one who’s known only as Major Iqbal and is suspected to be an officer in that country’s espionage agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence. The other accused are Al Qaeda member Illyas Kashmiri (said to have been killed recently in a US drone attack) and several leaders of the Pakistan-based banned militant organization Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT)—Sajid Mir, Abu Qahafa alias Abu Alqama, Abdur Rehman Hashim Syed alias Pasha, Mazhar Iqbal and one known only by the initial D.
“These accused have not been arrested yet. In the light of the judgement, it will be difficult for Pakistan to arrest and extradite them to the US,” said B. Raman, an expert on national security.
Rana was the second of the eight co-defendants who have been indicted in the case since late 2009. The first, key LeT operative David Coleman Headley, 50, pleaded guilty in March 2010 to all 12 counts against him, including aiding and abetting the murders of the six American victims.
The 12-member Chicago jury, however, found Rana, 50, guilty on two other counts—plotting an aborted attack on Jyllands-Posten, a Danish newspaper that had published cartoons of Prophet Muhammad, and providing material support to LeT. He faces a maximum sentence of 30 years in prison on the two counts combined and remains in federal custody without bond. A sentencing date has not yet been set.
US prosecutors had alleged that Rana, a military doctor turned businessman, was aware of the Mumbai attacks and was in contact with the terrorist group and its leaders in Pakistan.
India, which is also probing Rana and Headley over the Mumbai attacks, said it was disappointed that Rana was acquitted of the 26/11 charge despite evidence. Headley, who deposed against his childhood friend Rana, is serving a life sentence under a plea bargain agreement.
“It may be recalled that evidence was produced in the US court that David Headley had advised Rana of his assignment to scout potential targets in India; Headley obtained Rana’s consent to open an office of First World Immigration Services as a cover for his activities; Rana advised Headley on how to obtain a visa for travel to India; and Headley and Rana had reviewed how Headley had done surveillance of the targets that were attacked in Mumbai,” secretary, internal security, U.K. Bansal, said in a statement released in Delhi on Friday after the verdict.
“Evidence was also produced that Rana told Headley that the terrorists involved in the Mumbai attacks should receive Pakistan’s highest military honours posthumously,” he added. “We are, therefore, disappointed that Rana was acquitted on the count of conspiracy to provide material support to the Mumbai terrorist attacks.”
Bansal said India’s National Investigating Agency (NIA), which was waiting for the US court proceedings to get over, will now examine the verdict before filing charges.
“NIA has also sought certain documents and evidence that were produced in the US court, and expects to receive them,” Bansal said. “After examining the verdict in the US court and after reviewing the documents and evidence..., NIA will take a decision on filing a chargesheet against Headley, Rana and others in an Indian court.”
According to highly-placed officials in the home ministry, the government is likely to do so. “There is substantial evidence to file a chargesheet against them,” said a senior government official on condition of anonymity.
Prior to issuing his statement, Bansal had said that prosecution in India against Rana and Headley depended on India’s own investigations.
“In our handling of terrorism in India, we do not rely overtly on prosecution in other countries. We have to rely on our own strength,” he said. “The issue is still under investigation. When the probe is over, we will produce the evidence in the court.”
US attorney Patrick J. Fitzgerald expressed disappointment that Rana was not held guilty over the Mumbai attacks.
“We put our evidence forward and the jury found that we did not meet the burden (of proof) there. But they did find we made our burden proving material support to Lashkar and they found that we met our burden with regard to attack on Denmark,” he said.
Responding to a question, Fitzgerald said he understands that Rana was acquitted on a very serious charge related to the Mumbai terrorist attack.
“What we are saying is that we embrace (the) jury’s verdict, and where the jury disagrees with us, we accept that. However, what they did convict him for was very serious given that he was supporting Lashkar’s activities in India,” he said. “We are not going to say, we got everything we wanted.”
It was not immediately clear whether the US would file an appeal against the verdict, but Rana’s attorney Patrick Blegan said he would file post-trial motions that there was not enough evidence to convict him. “There was an error in the trial,” he said.
Blegan pointed out that the government had emphasized on a secretly taped car conversation between Rana and Headley, the star witness during the trial. He also said there was a contradiction in the verdict as LeT was primarily involved in the Mumbai attack and not in the Denmark plan.
“Obviously, we are extremely disappointed. We believe in Rana. We believe he was not guilty. The jury came to another decision. We respect their decision, but we think they got it wrong,” Blegan said.
PTI contributed to this story.