hi INDiA Copyright 2020
By Mayank Chhaya
Special to Hi India
As Indian media speculation swirls around his whereabouts at best and whether he is alive at worst, the once Chicago resident David Coleman Headley, a key plotter behind the November 26, 2008 Mumbai terror attacks, is yet again in the headlines. As is his childhood friend from Pakistan, fellow Chicagoan and a broad co-conspirator, Tahawwur Hussain Rana but for a different reason.
On the 12th anniversary on Thursday of the massacre that killed 165 people and wounded over 300, these two former residents of Chicago of Pakistani origin have not ceased to be in the news. Rana, a Canadian Pakistani army doctor who ran an immigration service travel agency on Chicago’s Indian dominated business district Devon Avenue, was rearrested in June, 2020 on India’s request in Los Angeles where he is serving his 14-year-long sentence. Even as his sentence for his 2011 conviction for aiding the Pakistani terror group Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) is coming to an end, US prosecutors have stepped up their effort to clear way for Rana to stand trial in India.
New Delhi has always viewed Rana’s role in the Mumbai massacre as more than what came out during the 2011 court hearing in a Chicago federal court. Even though Rana was not convicted for any involvement in the Mumbai attacks, investigators in India have always linked him as much as Headley. US prosecutors are yet again calling him a behind-the-scenes terror operative who rejoiced over the 26/11 attacks by quoting him as saying “they (the people of India) deserved it.”
Their new filing claims that there is probable cause that Rana was involved in conspiracy, waging war, murder and terrorism, all enough grounds in their judgement to be extradited to India. Rana’s extradition to India is not a given at all since the extradition treaty with the United States prohibits extradition if the defendant has already been convicted or even acquitted of the same offense.
Rana’s alleged links with Pakistani terror groups such as LeT have been said to be deeper, according to Indian investigators who believe he could be even more important than Headley. Rana and Headley worked in tandem, both using Chicago as their base.
India had tried Rana in absentia in a Delhi court where he was convicted to serve 14 years in the country. The National Investigation Agency of India believes that with Rana’s sentence ending his extradition is feasible.
Although Rana was not convicted specifically for any role in the Mumbai attacks, by implication of his links with the LeT he is wanted in India.
Meanwhile, wild speculation has continued over the fate of David Headley also known as Daood Gilani since his name does not show up in the Bureau of Prisons database. The speculation swings between him being hidden away to him being dead following an attack on him in a Chicago facility in 2018. Headley’s attorney John Theis has denied the report.
One of the many enduring questions about Headley has been his five trips to India in September 2006, February and September 2007 and April and July 2008 as part of detailed scouting targets in Mumbai and fiendishly meticulous planning. During much of that period he was known to the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) and had been recruited as its informant on drug cartels in Afghanistan-Pakistan region. Some reports even say he might have had some US intelligence links. His being a DEA informant meant that there was a detailed dossier on him with the US authorities which took an unusually long time in alerting India. Indian intelligence sources have claimed that even that heads-up from the US was vague in nature and not actionable.
The curious part is that with his kind of murky affiliations at best Headley managed to travel to India at will without once arousing suspicions among the Indian authorities not just in India but even at the Indian consulate here in Chicago. The extent and nature of the work he did for the DEA has never been particularly clear. That notwithstanding if the US authorities had any inkling that Headley might have turned during his many trips to Pakistan, some as part of his DEA work, and become sympathetic to the anti-India cause espoused by terror groups such as the LeT, they should have informed India much earlier.
One view is that the US authorities too failed to see that Headley had turned even while using his DEA cover. The change of his name from Daood Gilani to David Coleman Headley was explained by US prosecutors during his testimony in a Chicago federal court as part of a well thought out strategy to travel to India without arousing suspicion. After his arrest in 2009 at Chicago’s O’Hare airport, he quickly turned US government witness in exchange for taking his extradition to India and the death penalty off the table. He was sentenced to 35 years unlike his childhood friend Rana who was sentenced to 14 years for charges not directly related to the Mumbai attacks.
Meanwhile, some reports suggest that Rana’s extradition is likely to begin in January. The fact that he was convicted only for plotting a terrorist attack on the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten for publishing an offensive cartoon has not deterred the NIA from holding the view that his involvement in the Mumbai case.
In reference the 26/11’s 12th anniversary on Thursday, Cale Brown, deputy spokesperson of the State Department, was quoted as saying, “Through the Rewards for Justice program, we seek to ensure that all those responsible for this heinous attack face justice.”
He added, “On the 12the anniversary of the 26/11 Mumbai attack, the US reaffirms its commitment to holding the perpetrators accountable and ensuring justice for the victims, including six Americans. Standing alongside our Indian partners, we remain resolute in the fight against terrorism.
Hi India’s efforts to track Headley’s whereabouts and fate too did not lead to anything clear.