26/11: India monitoring Rana trial for ISI terror links
New Delhi: Pakistani-born Tahawwur Rana, co-accused with David Headley for plotting the 2008 Mumbai carnage, is set to appear in a US court for a trial that is being closely monitored by India because it may unmask the links between Pakistan's spy agency ISI and terrorists.
Official sources said that while India has all along been maintaining that the Inter-Services Intelligence was behind the November 26-29, 2008 mayhem that claimed the lives of 166 people, including six Americans, Rana's trial "will provide evidence" that the attack was financed by an ISI officer identified only as Major Iqbal.
"What we would be looking at is evidence against the ISI that will corroborate what India has been saying all these months," a top official said.
The trial is set to begin in Chicago Monday morning (2130 IST), nearly 16 months after a US federal jury indicted Rana alleging that he and Headley participated in conspiracies involving a planned terrorist attack against a Danish newspaper and the Mumbai attack.
Rana, 50, a Canadian citizen, living in Chicago but born in Pakistan, has remained in federal custody in Chicago since he was arrested October 18, 2009, in connection with the planned attacks.
He was indicted for providing material support to terror group Lashkar-e-Toiba, designated as a foreign terrorist organisation by the US. The LeT operates from Pakistan.
Headley who is not on trial as he has entered into a confessional plea bargain with the US had told Indian investigators in June last year that an ISI officer known as Major Iqbal had given him financial help for scouting identified terror targets in India.
Headley claimed that two years before terrorists attacked Mumbai, he laid the groundwork with Rana for the strike for which Major Iqbal had given him USD 25,000.
Headley as a witness against Rana is set to recount his story of the Mumbai attack plan in the Chicago court. Rana has been pleading not guilty.
The trial has gained significance also because it come at a time when Pakistan is battling charges of sheltering terrorists following the May 02 killing of al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden in the heart of Pakistan.
On April 25, US prosecutors charged four additional Pakistani men for conspiring in the Mumbai terror attack. Major Iqbal, said to have been in service with the ISI when Mumbai was attacked, is one among them.
The other significant person indicted is a longtime LeT chief named Sajid Mir, who also is accused of serving as Headley's handler. Also charged is Abu Qahafa, who is accused of overseeing the training of the 10 terrorists who launched mayhem in Mumbai. Suspect Mazhar Iqbal, alias Abu Al Qama, is the only one of the four known to be in custody in Pakistan.
India has already requested the US for access to Rana but is awaiting completion of the trial. The request has been sent under the Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty between the two countries.
India will also seek a copy of Rana's passport and other evidence found by the US against him.
It is likely that India may pursue with the US for Rana's extradition as unlike Headley, he has not entered into a plea bargain with the authorities in that country.