Mumbai terror trial begins in Chicago court

Mumbai terror trial begins in Chicago court

Wearing a grey suit and a white shirt, Rana waited with his lawyers inside the courtroom at the Dirksen US Courthouse here as jury selection began amid tight security.

Potential jurors will be asked to answer a questionnaire. The jury selection could take up much of the week.  The trial is expected to last a month, with opening arguments not likely before May 23.

The trial's star witness is expected to be Pakistani American David Coleman Headley, son of a Pakistani diplomat and an American mother - who has pleaded guilty to avoid the death penalty - who changed his given name of Daood Gilani in 2006 to scout targets for the November 2008 Mumbai attack without arousing suspicion.

He is reported to have told Indian investigators during questioning in Chicago last year how Pakistani spy agency Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) was deeply involved in planning the Nov 26-29, 2008 Mumbai attack that claimed the lives of 166 people, including six Americans.

His LeT "handler" in the Mumbai attack was one "Major Iqbal", who is believed to be a retired ISI officer. In the indictment his name is listed as unknown.

Besides Rana and "Major Iqbal", five others charged in absentia include Sajid Mir, allegedly another LeT supervisor who also "handled" Headley.

Also indicted is Ilyas Kashmiri, the commander of the terror group Harakat-ul Jihad Islami (HuJI) who also is believed to be Al Qaeda's operational chief in Pakistan.

During his travels for spying and training, Headley allegedly met with Kashmiri in Pakistan, and Kashmiri gave him instructions for a plot for an attack on a Danish newspaper for publishing cartons of Prophet Muhammad.

Rana, 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 relationship between Rana, and Headley who become friends while attending military school in Pakistan in their youth, will be a central issue in the trial, which will also feature secretly recorded calls and coded e-mail messages.

Rana's attorneys have argued that he was duped into helping an old friend.

Rana, a father of three, has no criminal background.

The trial is being closely monitored by India because it may unmask the links between Pakistan's spy agency ISI and terrorists, official sources said in New Delhi.

The sources said that while India has all along been maintaining that the Inter-Services Intelligence was behind the Rana's trial "will provide evidence"
that the attack was financed by Major Iqbal.

"What we would be looking at is evidence against the ISI that will corroborate what India has been saying all these months," a top official told IANS.