CHICAGO – One Tahawwur Rana is a loving, kindhearted father hoodwinked into committing crimes out of loyalty to an old friend. The other Tahawwur Rana is hate-filled and cold, speaking approvingly of mass murder and laughing at the prospect of severed heads thrown onto a street.
Those competing portraits are expected to be on display Thursday before a judge sentences the Canadian businessman for backing a terrorist plot in Denmark and supporting the group behind the three-day deadly siege of Mumbai sometimes known as India’s 9-11.
Rana, 52, was convicted in 2011 for providing support to a Pakistani group that carried out the 2008 Mumbai attack that killed 160 people, as well as for his backing of an unrealized plot to attack a Danish newspaper that printed cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad.
Defence attorneys say they are seeking a no more than nine-year prison term at his sentencing hearing Thursday in U.S. District Court in Chicago. Prosecutors are asking for the maximum 30 years, which, at his age, could amount to a life term.
Although Rana was acquitted of terrorism charges, the question of whether he should be considered a terrorist for sentencing purposes likely will be a focus of the hearing. Federal guidelines require stiffer sentences for those deemed to have engaged in terrorism.
Prosecutors argued in pretrial filings this week that the Pakistani-born Canadian — who owned an immigration consulting firm in Toronto and a home in Ottawa — fits the definition of a terrorist.
He laughed in secretly recorded conversations about beheading some of the Danish newspaper’s employees and throwing their heads onto a street, prosecutors alleged. They also say Rana responded to the massacres in Mumbai by saying the victims “deserved it.”
Jurors cleared Rana of the third and most serious charge of involvement in the three-day rampage in Mumbai, India’s largest city.
Acquittal on that charge, prosecutors argue, doesn’t lessen the reality that Rana was bent on committing terrorism.
“The goal,” one of its filings said about the Danish plot, “was murder on a grand, horrific scale.”
The core of the defence argument is that Rana acquiesced to provide help to a key figure in the Mumbai attack, David Coleman Headley, out of a misguided sense of loyalty going back to their days as childhood friends.
Headley, an American Pakistani who has pleaded guilty to laying the groundwork for those attacks, was the star witness at Rana’s trial. He testified to avoid the death penalty and extradition. He will be sentenced next week in the same Chicago courtroom.
Rana was accused of allowing Headley to open a branch of his Chicago-based immigration law business in Mumbai as a cover story and to travel as a representative of the company in Denmark. In court, a travel agent showed how Rana booked travel for Headley.
“The two continued their friendship throughout their lives,” the defence filing says. “But while Headley lived a life of crime and excess, Rana lived a full and productive life … starting several businesses, getting married and raising three children. … This continued friendship and loyalty to Headley ultimately led to Rana’s downfall.”
The defence filing described his crimes as an aberration.
“Rana is a kind, hardworking, dedicated, charitable, compassionate family man,” it says. “He made the unfortunate mistake of becoming involved in the activities of his oldest — and most manipulative — friend.”
It added: “Rana is quite simply not a terrorist.”
Prosecutors blasted the notion that Rana displayed any naivety, highlighting how in some of his communications he took pains to use coded language. Rana, the government filing said, had “engaged in extensive terrorist tradecraft.”
Far from being hoodwinked by Headley, Rana “made his own decision to participate … and, once he did, did so whole-heartedly.”
Prosecutors also sought to discredit letters Rana’s family, including his wife, sent recently to the judge describing Rana as a loving father and appealing for leniency.
Rana’s wife, prosecutors argued, held a different opinion of her husband until right before his arrest. They cite a secretly recorded conversation in which she calls Headley “absolutely crazy” and quickly adds Rana is much like him.
“They talk nonsense all day, idiots. That’s not how Islam spreads! … Such as, ‘Kill him, he is not practising like us — kill him, do that to him, do this to him, he is like this,’” she allegedly says. “Is this how Islam spreads? … Hatred spreads like this, not Islam.”