A Canadian businessman has been charged with helping plan the three-day terrorist rampage that killed more than 160 people in India just over a year ago.
The Mumbai Massacre is known as "India's 9/11." Ten Islamist gunmen from Pakistan stormed "soft targets" in the city, singling out Jews and Westerners, in an attack calculated to undermine relations between the subcontinent's nuclear-powered neighbours.
Long before that attack shocked the world, there was a secret meeting in Chicago. U.S. prosecutors allege that a terrorist operative flew there in June, 2006, to visit a Pakistani-Canadian based in the city.
Tahawwur Rana, a 49-year-old immigration consultant, was allegedly asked to provide a cover story that would facilitate the operative's entry into India and help him lay the groundwork for the Mumbai attacks. The operative "obtained Rana's approval for opening an office ... as cover for these activities," according to an indictment approved yesterday by a U.S. grand jury. Charged yesterday with three counts of lending material support to terrorist conspiracies, Mr. Rana - arrested in a separate case in October - is accused of relaying messages, money and documents that helped bring the Mumbai massacre to fruition.
The operative who visited him in 2006 was David Coleman Headley, a Pakistani American and friend of Mr. Rana since they attended a Pakistani military school together.
It's alleged Mr. Headley, who anglicized his Pakistani name that same year, slipped into India five times before the attacks posing as an immigration consultant. He took boat trips in the Mumbai harbour, visited an out-of-the way synagogue, Chabad House, and spent much of his time videotaping the insides of luxury hotels, as well as the routes leading to them.
U.S. prosecutors say the travels were used to create a roadmap to terrorism. Mr. Headley allegedly mapped out his visits with video cameras and GPS devices, before travelling to Pakistan to brief his terrorist handlers. The attacks are believed to have been organized by Lashkar-e-Taiba, a Pakistan-based terrorist group fixated on fighting India's claims to the disputed Kashmir region.
In the fall of 2008, the 10 terrorist gunmen landed by watercraft in the harbour and stormed the hotels and synagogue. Only one survived to be captured.
For months, speculation has built that U.S. prosecutors were on the verge of alleging that Mr. Rana was complicit in the massacre. Both he and Mr. Headley were arrested in Illinois last fall for allegedly hatching a plan to attack a Danish newspaper whose cartoons lampooned the Prophet Mohammed.
The same modus operandi is alleged, with Mr. Headley posing as an immigration consultant to scout out a plan of attack.
The Chicago-based First World Immigration Services is legitimate, although it's alleged Mr. Rana created international franchises to facilitate his friend's terrorist travels. The U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation says it recorded incriminating conversations between the two men last year.
The Mumbai Massacre, however, appears to have been planned before any government surveillance on the two. After the arrests in the Denmark conspiracy, teams of FBI agents spent the fall visiting India.
Mr. Rana has denied all charges against him. His lawyers claim he was Mr. Headley's dupe.
Members of the Rana family live in Ottawa and have defended him as a man of integrity. Although he received Canadian citizenship in 2001, he has a small footprint north of the border, and for the past decade he has been mostly living and working out of Chicago.
Defence lawyer Patrick Blegen, who could not be reached yesterday, had previously issued a statement on his client's behalf. "Mr. Rana categorically denies involvement in the tragic events in Mumbai of Nov. 26, 2008," it read. "He harbours no ill will against the people of India and continues to have close family ties to the country."
Two Pakistanis who are allegedly high-level terrorists were also indicted by the U.S. in the conspiracy yesterday, and accused of directing Mr. Rana and Mr. Headley. They are Ilyas Kashmiri, a man alleged to be a terrorist leader in Pakistan who was in regular contact with al Qaeda, and Abdur Rehman, a retired major in the Pakistani military.