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Canadian said he was in touch with Mumbai plotters, FBI video shows

In this courtroom sketch, Chicago businessman Tahawwur Rana is shown in federal court as the prosecutor makes an opening argument Monday, May 23, 2011, in Chicago.

Tom Gianni/AP/Tom Gianni/AP

A Chicago court has released video evidence of a Canadian citizen telling the FBI that he was in contact with the ringleaders behind the Mumbai terrorist attacks - including a reputed Pakistani government spy who is said to have helped lead the planning.

Tahawwur Rana, 50, said just because he was familiar with the planners didn't mean he was familiar with the plot: "I am not guilty," he said in the interrogation video.

The statements were released by the U.S. Department of Justice this week as lawyers wrapped up their arguments in the case. Mr. Rana is accused of several counts of conspiring to lend material support to terrorists. Closing arguments to the 12-member jury are anticipated to begin Tuesday.

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Mr. Rana, who runs a Chicago immigration consultancy, was arrested in October, 2009 - one year after 10 gunmen from a Pakistani terror group known as Lashkar-e-Taiba stormed India's largest city. More than 160 people died in the Mumbai massacre.

Upon arresting Mr. Rana, FBI agents questioned their suspect, who initially waived his rights to a lawyer. At one point, he recounted how he was in phone contact with a "Major Iqbal" - whom he described as a serving member of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate (ISI) who had helped plan the massacre.

"I was a captain when I deserted the Pakistani army," Mr. Rana told the FBI. He had worked as an army doctor in Pakistan before immigrating to Canada; he later started businesses inside the United States.

Mr. Rana said Major Iqbal called him in 2008 to suggest he could help sort out the problem of his deserter status, but he wanted a favour in return. "He was saying that if you can help my friend get back to Pakistan, that I could go back to Pakistan."

The "friend" in question was David Headley, a Pakistani American who says he was working with Major Iqbal to plot attacks.

Mr. Headley, a confessed terrorist and key witness in the ongoing trial, has testified he posed as a consultant for Mr. Rana's immigration business as he travelled to India, Pakistan and Denmark to plot attacks. The false credentials are key, because U.S. prosecutors alleged they show that Mr. Rana knowingly lent support to the terrorist schemes.

Colin Freeze

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Mr. Headley, who was arrested in Chicago a couple of weeks before Mr. Rana, turned FBI informant in the hopes of saving himself from a possible death sentence. He accused Mr. Rana, his lifelong best friend, as a co-conspirator.

Mr. Rana declined to testify in his own defence at the trial on Monday.

Now a prisoner with snow-white hair, Mr. Rana had jet-black hair during his post-arrest FBI interviews two years ago.

In 2009, the FBI had asked Mr. Rana whether he knew Mr. Headley had taken terrorist training with the Lashkar-e-Taiba and ISI figures who plotted the attacks.

"He would mention, that, that, you know sittings with them … talking emotionally about Kashmir and other things, but he would uh, say that I had this training," Mr. Rana said in the taped interview.

He later added that "I do remember his affiliations with ISI and Lashkar. … He's kind of a link between those two people, or something along those lines. Nothing in detail, but he mentions that he is, uh , helping both organizations."

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When the FBI pressed about Mr. Headley's interactions with Pakistani terrorists, Mr. Rana said his friend "mentioned that he was running around [with Lashkar]and all that… I think he said the ISI gives them weapons."

Mr. Rana was also recorded saying he had once praised a Lashkar-e-Taiba operations chief as a great Islamic warrior.

Though Mr. Rana said he knew the man by the pseudonym "Dr. Ibrahim," it was a clear reference to Sajid Mir, the Lashkar leader who communicated orders via telephone to the Mumbai-massacre gunmen from a control room in Karachi.

Mr. Rana said he was no terrorist and that he had never once left the United States to assist in any scheme. He said he mostly viewed Lashkar members as "freedom fighters" who worked for "the liberation of Kashmir."

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