Rana trial: Handlers were members of ISI, says Headley

Rana trial: Handlers were members of ISI, says Headley

The trial of Tahawwur Rana began weeks after the killing of Osama bin Laden by US special forces that raised questions about whether Pakistani authorities knew the al Qaeda leader was in their country and about their commitment to fighting militant groups.

“He (Rana) not only knew of the attacks, he approved of them, and agreed with them” prosecutor Sarah Streicker said in her opening statement to the jury in US District Court in Chicago.

A number of Pakistanis accused of helping to orchestrate the attack, described as co-conspirators, knew about Rana and were “appreciative of his assistance,” Streicker said.

US-Pakistan relations have long been marred by mistrust and the revelation of bin Laden’s whereabouts added to US concerns about billions of aid dollars to Pakistan and its reliability as an ally in the war in neighbouring Afghanistan.

Rana, a Pakistan-born Canadian citizen, is accused of using his immigration services firm to provide a cover story for David Headley, an American who has admitted to scouting targets in Mumbai for the Pakistani militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba.

Although Rana did not carry a gun nor throw a grenade, he played a vital role in the run-up to Mumbai with resources and other support, including using his business as a conduit for communications with militants, Streicker said.

At one point after the 2008 attack, Streicker said Rana told Headley “The Indians deserved it.”

Headley, tipped as the key witness, has pleaded guilty to avoid the death penalty and to keep from being extradited.

Streicker said Headley will explain how he funnelled his surveillance to Pakistani militants who organised the attack that killed more than 160 people in the Indian commercial capital, including six Americans.

Headley has told investigators the militants’ “handlers” were members of Pakistan’s main spy agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence directorate.

But Streicker described the role of only one ISI officer, “Major Iqbal,” who she said was intimately involved in the attack that she referred to as an “international nightmare.”

She also cited the role of Abdur Rehman, another figure referred in court papers as a retired military officer.

It was not yet clear whether ISI handlers will be portrayed in the trial as rogue agents or integral to Pakistan’s rivalry with India, its eastern neighbour and fellow nuclear power.

Prosecutors say Rana served as a conduit for messages between Headley and “Major Iqbal.”

Iqbal and Rehman are among six Pakistanis who have been indicted. None of them is in custody.

Rana, who faces the possibility of life in prison, and Headley were also charged with participating in a second plot with Pakistani militants. That plot, never carried out, allegedly targeted a Danish newspaper that published cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed which angered many Muslims.

Rana’s lawyers have said they will show Headley tricked Rana into thinking they were working with Pakistan’s government and were not bent on violence.

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