Skip to main content

A former Pakistani cadet and medical student who got Canadian citizenship then settled in Chicago, Tahawar Hussain Rana was known as an immigration consultant and abattoir operator.

Now he is accused of helping mastermind a terrorist plot that he and alleged conspirators dubbed the Mickey Mouse project, with tentacles stretching from a Toronto office tower to radical groups in Pakistan. Mr. Rana's co-accused, a Pakistani-American who Westernized his name to David Headley, told the FBI he wanted to kill two Danish journalists in retaliation for their paper's publication in 2005 of cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed, according to court documents unsealed yesterday.

Mr. Headley, who was arrested Oct. 3 as he boarded a plane at Chicago's O'Hare airport, also told police he trained with Lashkar-e-Taiba, the group behind the Mumbai attacks last year.

The alleged conspiracy ended in a dramatic raid 10 days ago, when more than 100 federal agents, some with assault rifles and body armour, descended on Mr. Rana's slaughterhouse in rural Illinois while helicopters and surveillance planes buzzed overhead.

Mr. Rana, who was arrested at his home, was known among Chicago Muslims as "Dr. Rana," a Mercedes-driving entrepreneur who provided immigration services at an office decked with the Canadian flag.

Mr. Headley posed as an employee of Mr. Rana's immigration consultancy during a January reconnaissance trip to Denmark to stake out the paper, the court filings say.

Mr. Rana's staff in Chicago and Toronto were told to expect calls from Denmark checking Mr. Headley's credentials.

The court filings don't say how the attacks would be carried out but note that Mr. Headley had sent his will to Mr. Rana.

Mr. Headley told the FBI he wanted to kill the cartoonist Kurt Westergaard and Flemming Rose, the cultural editor behind the cartoons' publication in the Jyllands-Posten. When he was arrested, he was carrying a memory stick with videos of the newspaper building, a nearby military barracks and a train station.

He even admitted he checked out a Copenhagen synagogue because he mistakenly thought Mr. Rose was Jewish, the court filings say.

In addition to the immigration consultancy and the abattoir, the 48-year-old Mr. Rana owns a grocery store in Chicago.

"He was offended by the cartoon depictions of the Prophet Mohammed," the FBI said in an affidavit.

Mr. Headley, 49, changed his name from Daood Gilani in 2006.

He lived in a Chicago flat leased to a dead man and used a cellphone also registered to a dead man, the FBI said. He is also associated with another radical group in a lawless tribal part of Pakistan, Harkat-ul-Jihad-e Islami, which has ties to al-Qaeda.

Starting a year ago, the pair had been online on a Yahoo discussion group for former students of a cadet school in Hasan Abdal, in the Punjab part of Pakistan.

"Call me old-fashioned but I feel disposed towards violence for the offending parties, be they cartoonists from Denmark or ... Irshad Manji (Liberal Muslim trying to make lesbianism acceptable in Islam)," Mr. Headley allegedly wrote in a posting in October of 2008.

Mr. Headley and another conspirator began preparing a plan and tried to code their communications, according to the FBI affidavits.

The two and Mr. Rana allegedly created a string of numbered e-mail accounts. But the FBI was wiretapping their phone calls and intercepting e-mails. Agents were listening in as Mr. Rana calculated out loud how he should code a new e-mail account, according to court affidavits.

Mr. Rana also went to high school with the Pakistani consul-general in Chicago and used the relationship to facilitate a five-year visa for Mr. Headley's travels, the FBI said.

Mr. Rana, the affidavit says, booked one of Mr. Headley's plane tickets, a return flight from Copenhagen.

The FBI alleges Mr. Headley sent an e-mail directly to Mr. Rana after the visit: "I checked out business opportunities here. They seem quite promising."

From there, he went to meet terrorists in Pakistan, the U.S. complaint says, adding that he returned to Denmark for another visit last summer.

Questioned about his travels by U.S. border guards upon his return to North America, Mr. Headley allegedly said he was a representative of Mr. Rana's business, First World Immigration Services.

First World has been in business for about a decade, said Mike Bell, an Ottawa lawyer who sometimes reviewed immigration applications for the agency. Mr. Rana appeared to just be "a wheeler-dealer businessman," Mr. Bell said.

"A terrorist plot. Holly Molly. I had no idea. No idea whatsoever. ... He's always been above board. They're very reputable in their dealings with us."

Muhammad Salim Mukhti, a former halal butcher who often prayed beside Mr. Rana, described him as a Punjabi who had served in Pakistan's army before coming to America.

Even at the mosque, conversations with Mr. Rana often turned to large amounts of money.

"I meet him every Friday, he prayed with me. He says, 'You know, he owes me, one guy, $70,000, $4,000, $5,000 ... blah blah blah," Mr. Mukhti said.

The FBI says there is considerable reason to doubt the alleged cover story that Mr. Headley visited Denmark because First World Immigration Services wanted to open up a branch in Copenhagen.

Certain terms overheard by authorities during intercepted e-mails and phone calls - such as "countersurveillance," "route design" and "cover authentication" - are more consistent with a planned terrorist attack than with any legitimate business, the FBI says.


The accused and the allegations

The Alleged Conspirators

Tahawar Hussain Rana

A 48-year-old Pakistani-born Canadian living in Chicago.

Owns a halal abattoir and a grocery store in the Chicago area and First World Immigration Services, a consultancy with offices in Chicago, Manhattan and North York.

Accused of helping co-conspirator David Headley as he scouted targets in Denmark.

Arrested on Oct. 18, 2009, at his Chicago home.

David Headley

A 49-year-old Chicago resident. Born in Pakistan but a U.S. citizen, he changed his name from Daood Gilani. A graduate of the same Pakistani military school as Mr. Rana. Police say Mr. Headley has no known job but claimed to work for First World Immigration as he travelled to Pakistan and Europe. Arrested Oct. 3, 2009, at Chicago airport as he began travel to Pakistan.

Ilyas Kashmiri

A leader of Harkat-ul-Jihad-e-Islami, a terrorist group based in northwestern Pakistan.

The men accused of being Chicago conspirators are alleged to have sought his support but then considered contacting another radical group after they thought Mr. Kashmiri had been killed in a drone attack in the Waziristan region of Pakistan.

Mr. Kashmiri has issued a statement this month saying he is still alive and working with al-Qaeda.

The secret e-mail accounts

To communicate, Mr. Rana and Mr. Headley are alleged to have used a series of accounts on the Gmail e-mail service. They began with an account called liaqatbin11 but kept changing its name.

The lettered portion of the name remained but the number 11 was at first multiplied by two and then two was subtracted to create account liaqatbin20.

The number used to multiply 11 increased by one with each new account.

Police wiretaps recorded Mr. Rana working the math out loud for several of the accounts.

Alleged codes used:

Mickey Mouse Project, mmp or the northern project: the planning for attacks against the Danish newspaper that printed cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed in 2005.

Heart attack: Referring to Mr. Kashmiri's possible death.

New investment plans: the planning of a different attack.

Tu Thanh Ha