Washington: The arrests last month of two Chicago men accused of planning an attack on a Danish newspaper have widened into a global terrorism inquiry that has led to arrests in Pakistan and implicated a former Pakistani military officer as a co-conspirator, government officials said on Wednesday.
In India, where the pair from Chicago are said to have wanted to attack the country’s national defence college, investigators are trying to determine whether the two men played a role in attacks a year ago in Mumbai in which nearly 160 people were killed. Officials said they had not clearly established a connection.
The case is one of the first criminal cases in which the federal authorities seem to have directly linked terrorism suspects in the US to a former Pakistani military officer, though they have long suspected connections between extremists and many members of the Pakistani military. Intelligence officials believe that some Pakistani military and intelligence officials even encourage terrorists to attack what they see as Pakistan’s enemies, including targets in India.
The two men, David Coleman Headley, 49, and Tahawwur Hussain Rana, 48, were accused in complaints unsealed on 27 October of plotting against the employees of a newspaper in Copenhagen which published cartoons of Prophet Muhammad in 2005 that offended many Muslims.
The complaints suggested that Headley—who was accused of the most serious charges, attempting to murder and maim in a foreign country —had cooperated with the authorities after his arrest on 3 October as he boarded a plane on the first leg of a trip to Pakistan. The officials, who asked not to be identified because they were discussing a continuing inquiry, now say that the investigation has widened further in part because of the wealth of information supplied by Headley.
John Theis, a lawyer for Headley, and Patrick W. Blegen, a lawyer for Rana, would not comment on who was suspected of being the co-conspirator or other matters in the case. Randall Samborn, a spokesman for Patrick J. Fitzgerald, the US attorney in Chicago, also declined to comment. Headley and Rana are in custody pending further proceedings. Each is scheduled to appear at a detention hearing in early December.
A spokesman for the Pakistani embassy in Washington also declined to comment, citing the continuing inquiry.
Headley, who changed his name from Daood Gilani in 2006, is a US citizen who lived in Pakistan, but recently was mainly a resident of Chicago. Rana is a Canadian citizen who has lived legally in Chicago, where he operated a travel agency and other businesses.
Headley and Rana are graduates of a military academy in the town of Hasan Abdal in Pakistan, and they maintained email contact with other former students, including officers in Pakistan’s military. They belonged to a group of the school’s graduates who referred to themselves as the “abdalians” in Internet postings, according to government affidavits.
Headley and Rana were accused in the complaints of reporting to Ilyas Kashmiri, an Islamic militant commander associated with both Al Qaeda and Lashkar-e-Taiba, a Pakistan-based militant group suspected in the deadly attacks in Mumbai.
The officials declined to name the other former military officer in the case who is said to have recently left the Pakistani army and held the rank of colonel or brigadier general, higher ranks than Kashmiri held.
Prosecution documents in the case said the officer was arrested earlier this past summer in Pakistan on unspecified charges and later released. However, another official said the officer was discharged only after his associates put pressure on the Pakistani authorities to free him.
In the complaints against Headley and Rana, the officer is identified as an uncharged conspirator by the letters “A” and “B”. The complaints describe him as “associated with Kashmiri, as well as with Lashkar-e-Taiba”.
One official who has been briefed on the investigation said Pakistani authorities had arrested as many as five other people in connection with the plot in recent weeks, including some former or current Pakistani military officials. Those people remain in custody, but it was unclear what role they played in the expanding plot.
US military and intelligence officials said the case involving Headley and Rana reflected a new and evolving pattern of individual militants with different backgrounds and experience, rather than terrorist groups, teaming up to plot and carry out attacks.
“In a lot of ways, it’s moving beyond the mainline activities of individual groups to elements of various militant groups or terrorist organizations that have spent time together, have fought together, maybe trained together, that now have associations with certain facilitators that now come together to plan and execute attacks,” said a defence department official who is following the case closely.
©2009/THE NEW YORK TIMES