Extradition cleared: US court details evidence linking Rana, Headley

By, Washington
May 19, 2023 02:27 AM IST

The order was based on a request by the Government of India, channelled through the US government, under the provisions of the India-US extradition treaty.

If the US secretary of state so chooses, the administration can extradite 26/11 accused and David Headley accomplice, Tahawwur Rana, to India, a US has court ruled this week.

The US court has approved the extradition of a Canadian businessman of Pakistani descent Tahawwur Rana to India where he is sought for his involvement in the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks. (ANI Photo)(LawBeatInd twitter)
The US court has approved the extradition of a Canadian businessman of Pakistani descent Tahawwur Rana to India where he is sought for his involvement in the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks. (ANI Photo)(LawBeatInd twitter)

Outlining how the case met the parameters for extradition, US magistrate judge Jacqueline Chooljian of the US district court of the central district of California said that the court had jurisdiction over the subject matter and over Rana; the India-US extradition treaty was in full force; and India had issued an arrest warrant against Rana for multiple crimes, including “the conspiracy to wage war, to commit murder, to commit forgery for the purpose of cheating, to use as genuine a forged document or electronic record, and to commit a terrorist act”, waging war, murder, and committing a terrorist act.

“Sufficient competent evidence…has been presented to establish probable cause that…Rana committed the aforementioned offences for which extradition has been sought…The Court concludes that Rana is extraditable for the offences for which extradition has been requested and on which the United States is proceeding and hereby certifies this finding to the United States secretary of state,” the order read.

The order was based on a request by the Government of India, channelled through the US government, under the provisions of the India-US extradition treaty. It was delivered on Tuesday and made public on Wednesday. A significant step in the quest for justice for the Mumbai attacks of 2008, the India-US collaboration in getting the request through the American judicial system marked one more instance of counterterror cooperation between the two countries, even as doubts persist about in the Indian security establishment about the links of American intelligence to Headley.

India is in touch with US authorities for the speedy extradition of Rana, foreign secretary Vinay Kwatra said on Thursday.

“We are in very regular touch with the US authorities to ensure that there is speedy and early extradition of Tahawwur Rana,” Kwatra told a news briefing.

“We have all seen the judgement which was given by the local US court. That conversation of ours with the US side is continuing,” he said.

Kwatra was responding to a question on whether Prime Minister Narendra Modi will take up the issue of Rana’s extradition if there is a bilateral meeting with US President Joe Biden on the sidelines of the G7 summit in Hiroshima.

Kwatra didn’t confirm whether a bilateral meeting would be held but said: “The bilateral meetings on the sidelines of the G7 Summit are still being firmed up. So I am not going to make any assumptions about which meeting will happen and which will not.”

Rana had assisted Headley, who scouted and surveilled the locations for the 26/11 attacks and is currently serving a 35-year prison term in the US for his involvement in the terror attacks.

The Rana-Headley connection

The US court’s order refers to the Mumbai terror attacks which killed 166 people, injured 239 people and resulted in property damage worth over $1.5 billion. In 2018, the US court said, a special court of the National Investigations Agency issued a warrant for Rana’s arrest and India presented evidence in support of its request to extradite Rana for the charges, including Headley’s testimony.

Laying out this evidence, the order says that Rana and Headley met when they were in a military school in Pakistan. Rana subsequently became a doctor, serving as a captain, in the Pakistan Army. He later became a Canadian citizen and moved to Chicago where he set up the Immigration Law Centre, among other businesses. In 1997, when Headley was arrested for importing heroin into the US, Rana posted his house as a collateral for his friend’s bond.

In August 2005, Headley told Rana about his association with Lashkar-e-Taiba including that he had received, among other things, “weapons training, ambush, raids, [and] military training” and informed him that Laskhar was sending him to India for surveillance or an attack. A year later, Rana helped Headley by agreeing to open a Mumbai branch of his immigration centre as a cover for Headley’s surveillance activities and enable his business visa for India. Headley used this cover provided by Rana to expand his activities in Mumbai. In July 2007, Headley once again met Rana and informed him of his surveillance activities, including videos he had taken of the Taj Hotel. Rana once again helped Headley apply for a new visa to India.

“In May 2008, Headley met with Rana in Chicago over a period of several days and told Rana about his extensive surveillance in Mumbai, his meetings with co-conspirators in Pakistan, the styrofoam mock-up he had been shown, the landing ideas (including specifically where a team of attackers would land in front of the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel), his boat trips in and around the harbour and use of the GPS device, and the delay of the attack plans, in part to await calmer waters,” the US court order states.

In July 2008, Headley and Rana worked together again in closing the office based on instructions given by Headley’s handlers in Pakistan. In the fall, through a co-conspirator, Headley warned Rana who was in Dubai not to travel to India because the attacks were imminent. After the attacks, they met again in December 2008 when Headley told him that he was now “even” with the Indians, and Rana told him that the Indians “deserved it”. The following year, Rana told Headley that the Lashkar terrorists killed in Mumbai should be awarded Pakistan’s highest military honour. They also discussed attacking the National Defence College in India.

The legal story

US authorities finally arrested Headley on October 3, 2009, and 15 days later, they arrested Rana. The US charged Rana with “conspiring to provide material support and resources, namely personnel, tangible property, expert advice and assistance, money, and false documentation and identification that were used in connection with the conspiracies to bomb, murder and maim individuals in India”.

In 2013, a jury acquitted Rana of the charge of conspiring to provide material support for terrorism in India, while convicting him of providing material support to Lashkar “but finding that death had not resulted from the conduct charged” and of conspiracy to provide material support for terrorism in Denmark. He was sentenced to 14 years in prison. On June 9, 2020, a district judge said Rana was eligible for compassionate release, reduced his sentence to time served and ordered his release.

But a day later, on June 10, 2020, the US government filed a complaint seeking the provisional arrest of Rana with a view towards extradition. This is the case which was up for hearing and led to the judgment this week.

Judge Chooljian focused on two issues during the trial — whether, as Rana claimed, he was ineligible for extradition because he had already served time for similar charges, and whether, as Rana again claimed, the government had failed to establish “probable cause” to believe that Rana committed the offences since it relied on Headley’s “uncorroborated” testimony.

On the first, the US district court disagreed with Rana’s claims. It returned to the explanation of the extradition treaty provided by the State and Justice Departments to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which stated that extradition is not precluded in “situations in which the fugitive is charged with different offences in both countries arising out of the same basic transaction”, and adopted an expansive definition of the word “offence” to incorporate different elements.

On the second claim, the judge said that, besides Headley’s testimony, the government had submitted “an affidavit from the Superintendent of Police in charge of the investigation in India summarizing the evidence supporting India’s extradition request; documentary evidence, including witness statements, copies of leases and related documents, and emails between Rana, Headley and other co-conspirators; and recordings of discussions between Rana and Headley”. The court, therefore, found that there was “probable cause to believe Rana committed the charged offences as to which extradition has been sought and should be extradited to India under the extradition Treaty between the United States and India”.

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    Prashant Jha is the Washington DC-based US correspondent of Hindustan Times. He is also the editor of HT Premium. Jha has earlier served as editor-views and national political editor/bureau chief of the paper. He is the author of How the BJP Wins: Inside India's Greatest Election Machine and Battles of the New Republic: A Contemporary History of Nepal.

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