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Mumbai attacks trial in US puts ISI in spotlight

world Updated: May 24, 2011 01:25 IST
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US prosecutors will outline an elaborate plot that allegedly preceded the 2008 attack on Mumbai in a case against a Chicago businessman that could feature prominent roles by members of Pakistan’s spy agency.

The trial of Tahawwur Rana follows the killing of Osama bin Laden by US special forces that raised questions about whether Pakistani authorities knew the al Qaeda leader was in their country and about their commitment to fighting militant groups.

US-Pakistan relations have long been marred by mistrust but the revelations about bin Laden’s whereabouts added fuel to a debate in the United States about billions of dollars in aid to Pakistan and its reliability as an ally in the war in neighbouring Afghanistan.

Rana, a Canadian citizen who owns an immigration service, is seen as a peripheral figure, accused of providing resources and a cover story for David Headley, an American who has admitted scouting targets in Mumbai for the Pakistani militant group Lashkar-e-Tayyeba.

Headley, tipped as the key witness, has pleaded guilty to avoid the death penalty and to keep from being extradited.

Headley has said the militants’ “handlers” were members of Pakistan’s main spy agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence directorate.

Closely watched will be whether the ISI handlers are portrayed as rogue agents or integral to Pakistan’s rivalry with India. Prosecutors say Rana served as a conduit for messages between Headley and a man known as “Major Iqbal” who is believed to be part of the ISI.