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Copy of a passport of Tahawwur Hussain Rana, arrested by the FBI on terror charges.
Copy of a passport of Tahawwur Hussain Rana, arrested by the FBI on terror charges.

Consultant with suspicious footprints ends up on Harper's agenda Add to ...

Before he became a diplomatic concern, Tahawwur Hussain Rana advertised himself as a "world-famous immigration consultant."

That was last year, when the Pakistani-Canadian businessman was just an unknown father of three, who worked out of Chicago while keeping a house in an Ottawa suburb.

On Tuesday Mr. Rana's name was on the agenda as Prime Minister Stephen Harper met his Indian counterpart, Manmohan Singh, to discuss how Canada and India can team up to fight terrorism. India's nuclear installations were on a state of alert even as the 48-year-old was behind bars in the United States.

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Over the past month, Mr. Rana's footprint has appeared in more and more places, as international investigators discuss overlapping conspiracies spanning three continents.

The globetrotting immigration consultant first made the news when he was arrested last month on suspicion of supporting a plot: To kill a Danish newspaper cartoonist who had mocked Islam.

This week, details of an Indian investigation were revealed as detectives retraced his travels across the subcontinent. Before terrorist gunmen massacred nearly 200 people in India a year ago, Mr. Rana visited several cities in the span of a week - Mumbai, New Delhi, Ahmedabad and Kochi, where he allegedly stayed with his wife in five-star hotel - before heading to Pakistan.

For months after that excursion, he rested at his Illinois home. But the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation kept tabs on him, spying on his e-mails to a co-accused, a former schoolmate from Pakistan who had made his own flurry of international travels while posing as a member of Mr. Rana's immigration consultancy.

The FBI says its agents were listening as Mr. Rana and David Headley (a 49-year-old Pakistani-American who Westernized his name from Daood Gilani) spoke of targeting the National Defence College of India in New Delhi and the Jyllands-Posten newspaper offices in Copenhagen. Mr. Headley was arrested at a O'Hare airport in Chicago on Oct. 3. Two weeks later Mr. Rana was taken into custody at his Chicago home, where al-Qaeda propaganda videos were allegedly seized.

Authorities allege the men operated as a terrorist tandem: Logistics experts with Western passports who never themselves handled bullets or bombs, but who scouted out global targets for Pakistan-based jihadists who were prepared kill.

Prior to these allegations, Mr. Rana's reputation didn't extend beyond a South Asian enclave in Chicago, where he has worked for the past decade.

On West Devon Street, the naturalized Canadian hung a Maple Leaf flag in the window of his office, where he worked as a go-to guy for those who wanted to fine-tune their immigration applications.

Mr. Rana kept his name off the signage in his Chicago office, even as he advertised himself in South Asia a "world-famous" consultant.

Last November he bought such ads in India after using his Canadian passport and a dubiously acquired visa for a trip he said was to drum up business. It's these same travels that are being probed for clues to the Mumbai massacre. While the evidence is not in, Indian officials are already vowing to clamp down on future visits by Pakistanis.

Mr. Rana and Mr. Headley grew up in Pakistan, which is where they are said to have reunited in the days preceding the massacre.

Across the border in India, terrorist gunmen targeted Jews, Indians and Westerners, and were allegedly directed by a Kashmiri-based terrorist group, Lashkar-e-Taiba.

Indian agents killed the gunmen, but have long called upon Pakistan to give up the masterminds and planners. News reports yesterday suggested Indian intelligence officials are trying to match certain intercepted calls to the gunmen with the voices of either Mr. Rana or Mr. Headley.

Mr. Rana's sprawling consultancy, which had independently run franchises in Toronto and New York - was not his only business.

He also owned an abattoir in rural Illinois that slaughtered goats in accordance with Islamic traditions.

The abattoir's proximity to three U.S. nuclear power plants piqued the FBI's curiosity during raids last month. And Indian agents are looking into the significance of Mr. Rana's and Mr. Headley's travels to regions in their country with nuclear power plants.

While there are no allegations of any planned attacks against reactors, U.S. agents do accuse Mr. Rana of being versed in immigration fraud. Prosecutorial filings allege he told others to lie about past jobs and to backdate employment letters.

"Rana does not shy from using [his]knowledge to assist others in immigration fraud," the filings say.

Mr. Rana has denied all the accusations through his lawyer. He has two daughters and a son, who requested a special visit last week at the Chicago detention centre where he is being held.

A bail hearing is scheduled for Thursday.

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