Tahawwur Rana Verdict: Implications for India

13 Jun, 2011    ·   3401

Radha Vinod Raju appraises the facts of the case

Radha Vinod Raju
Radha Vinod Raju
Former Director General, National Investigation Agency (NIA)
There is disappointment in India over Tahawwur Rana’s acquittal by a Chicago court in the case pertaining to the Mumbai attack. There is, however, no point in becoming emotional about these matters. We need to look objectively at facts and evidence presented in court, and the US system of assessing that evidence. Let us take a fresh look at the case on this basis.

We know that Tahawwur Rana and David Coleman Headley (or Dawood Gilani, as he was then known) were childhood friends and had studied together in an Army School in Pakistan. We also know that Rana had served in the Pakistan Army as a doctor, and was a declared absconder after he failed to report at his place of posting. He subsequently became a Canadian citizen, and shifted to Chicago where he set up his First World Immigration Service.

As far as Headley is concerned, we know he was an operative of the Lashkar e Tayyeba/ISI combine and that he scouted for targets in Mumbai after setting a branch of the First World Immigration Service, Rana’s Chicago-based company, in 2006. We also know that when Headley first landed in Mumbai, it was Rana’s contact from New York who assisted him in settling down in Mumbai.

Rana was aware that his friend Dawood Gilani had changed his name to David Coleman Headley in early 2006. He also knew the reason for this change. Rana admitted during the trial that he knew Headley was working for the ISI. The key question is whether Rana was aware, before the terrorist attack took place in Mumbai on 26/11, that Headley was scouting targets for a terrorist attack in Mumbai for the Lashkar-e-Tayyeba, under cover of working for the First World Immigration Service in Mumbai. And if indeed he was aware of this, then whether the prosecution has succeeded in establishing this fact through admissible evidence in court.

The FBI is reported to have produced a tape recorded conversation between Headley and Rana in which Rana allegedly said that those who planned and executed the attacks deserved the highest honour in Pakistan. But this conversation took place months after the Mumbai attacks; while it shows Rana approved of the attack after it took place, it certainly does not establish that he was aware of the planning and preparation for the attack before the attack itself.

The only relevant evidence to show that Rana had prior knowledge of the attack is a translation of a recorded conversation, as per media reports, in which Rana is supposed to have laughed at his foreknowledge of the Mumbai attack when retired ISI Major Abdul Rehman (also known as ‘Pasha’) warned him of the imminence of the attack. If this is true, and the prosecutors had succeeded in laying a proper foundation to bring in this evidence with corroboration, it would have certainly established that Rana was indeed privy to the whole conspiracy, and that he had knowingly colluded with Headley in the horrendous attack which took 166 innocent lives and injured hundreds. This will have to be carefully examined by officers and prosecutors of the National Investigation Agency (NIA). It appears that the US prosecutors have either failed to lead this evidence properly, or that it has not been corroborated by circumstantial or other evidence and hence not accepted by the judge and members of the jury.

What are the implications of this acquittal for India? We know that Rana visited India in November 2008, days before the Mumbai attack. He visited Mumbai, Delhi, parts of Uttar Pradesh, Kochi and Ahmedabad, ostensibly to size up his business. NIA has not had access to Rana. If and when NIA’s investigators get a chance to question Rana, they should seek clarifications about this visit. For instance, if Rana returned to the US via the Gulf, did he get a chance to meet ‘Pasha’? If so, that would be circumstantial evidence that can corroborate Rana’s reported statement that ‘Pasha’ had told him the Mumbai attack was imminent - the conversation could have taken place a couple or so days before the attack.

NIA’s case refers to a conspiracy of the ISI, LeT, Headley, Rana et al to target several places in India, not just Mumbai. Headley’s visit to Delhi, Mumbai and other locations in India in early 2009, after the Mumbai attack, in continuation of his earlier visits, proves this.  Further, instructions left by Headley to Rana before his India visit in early 2009 in which he voiced his fears of being arrested in India show that Rana was actively associated with Headley in this part of the conspiracy. All these points need to be clarified by Rana during his questioning by Indian investigators. Hopefully, the NIA will get access to Headley once more, and to Rana. The acquittal of Rana by the Chicago court on the charges concerning the Mumbai attack is not, and should not be, the end of this story.