Washington: The trial of Pakistan-born Canadian businessman Tahawwur Hussain Rana for his role in the Mumbai terror attack starting in Chicago Monday could unmask Pakistan`s links to terrorists, according to US media reports.
Although only Rana is on trial, it`s the story of his Pakistani American high-school friend David Coleman Headley, who has turned prosecution witness after pleading guilty to his own role in the November 2008 attack that would prove damaging for Islamabad.
"What he discloses could deepen suspicions that Pakistani spies are connected to terrorists and could potentially worsen relations between Washington and Islamabad," the New York Times reported on Sunday.
Two years before terrorists struck Mumbai, "Headley began laying the groundwork for the attack, financed, he claims, by $25,000 from an officer in Pakistan`s powerful intelligence service."
"Headley told Indian investigators that the officer, known only as Major Iqbal, `listened to my entire plan to attack India.`
"Another officer with the intelligence service, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) Directorate, `assured me of the financial help,`" Headley was quoted as saying by the Times.
"The United States government`s view of Headley - like so much else surrounding the ISI - was murky," said an unnamed American official cited by the Times.
"No agreement exists in Washington on whether the ISI guided Headley and the attacks on Mumbai. It`s not very clear," the official was quoted as saying. "A lot of this is going to come out of the trial. His claim could just be his claim."
"More ultranationalists than jihadists, the ISI`s officers consider themselves to be Pakistan`s true guardians," the Times cited American and Pakistani officials as saying.
"They see the United States as a feckless and immoral power that is in deep decline, India as Pakistan`s main threat, and militants as proxies they can control."
The Wall Street Journal said Headley is expected to testify that the ISI, was directly involved in plotting the Mumbai attacks carried out by the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba terror group.
Headley is also expected to testify that Rana knew of his work on behalf of ISI and allowed Headley to use Rana`s immigration business as a cover. Defence attorneys have signalled in court filings that Rana`s defence relies heavily on his assertions about the ISI`s role in aiding the Mumbai terrorists, it noted.
Court filings remain sealed, but in an April ruling, US District Judge Harry Leinenweber quoted from a defence motion that Rana had acted "at the behest of the Pakistani government and the ISI, not the Lashkar terrorist organization."
Prosecutors have charged six other men besides Rana. In court filings, defence lawyers identified several as Pakistani intelligence officers. All are fugitives. Rana, 50, will be the only defendant in court.
US prosecutors refer to the co-defendants only as being leaders of Lashkar-e-Taiba. Co-defendant Ilyas Kashmiri is a former Pakistani commando who US officials say leads a terror group believed to be allied with al Qaeda, the Journal noted.
Another defendant is identified by the US as a retired former major in the Pakistani military.