Tahawwur Rana, a Pakistani-origin Canadian sent to US jail for his role in planning the 2008 Mumbai attacks, has been arrested after being freed from prison to face extradition to India.
Rana, 59, a known close associate of David Coleman Headley – one of the main conspirators behind the attacks on India’s financial hub that killed 166 people – was serving a 14-year sentence in a Los Angeles federal prison when he was granted an early release last week because of poor health and being infected by the coronavirus.
However, he never got out of prison as he was arrested to face extradition to India, US prosecutors told the Associated Press. Indian officials said they had learnt Rana was rearrested on June 10.
Officials familiar with developments said a US attorney informed the district judge in Los Angeles about India’s standing request on Rana’s extradition who is wanted in India for terror charges.
A senior National Investigation Agency (NIA) officer, who didn’t want to be named, said “It’s a positive development after over 11 years. This means his extradition hearings will now take place”.
Former home secretary GK Pillai, who played a key role in the investigation of the Mumbai attacks and coordinated with the US, said there was a pending Indian extradition request for Rana.
“There is a standing Indian extradition request for Rana and that will still be applicable,” he told HT.
An NIA team that visited the US in late 2018 was informed by the department of justice (DoJ) that it was convinced with India’s charges against Rana.
India’s had requested Rana’s extradition on charges of forgery and criminal breach of trust as he used his firm for making documents that were used by Headley during his surveillance missions in Mumbai. These charges were accepted by US prosecutors and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), and they are inclined to honour India’s request.
Rana, a former Pakistan Army physician-turned-businessman, had been convicted by a court in Chicago in 2011 of providing material support to the Lashkar-e-Taiba for the Mumbai attacks, and for backing a planned attack on a Danish newspaper that printed caricatures of Prophet Mohammed in 2005. Headley was linked to both incidents and was convicted during the same trial.
At the time, US reports had said American prosecutors had failed to prove that Rana directly supported the attacks in Mumbai and he was cleared of this more serious charge by the jury at the trial in Chicago.
Rana’s legal team had claimed he had been misled by Headley, who was Rana’s friend from high school. Rana had been accused of allowing Headley to open a branch of his Chicago-based immigration law firm in Mumbai to act as a front for Headley’s surveillance activities in India’s financial hub ahead of the devastating attacks that also injured hundreds.
He was also accused of allowing Headley to pose as a representative of the same firm when he went to Denmark for surveillance ahead of the planned attack.
At the time, US prosecutors had said Rana knew Headley had trained with the LeT and that Headley had shared information with Rana of his surveillance activities in Mumbai and of the Taj Mahal Palace hotel, where LeT members later killed dozens of people.
Headley was sentenced to 35 years in prison but can’t be extradited to India under a plea deal. Indian investigators have been allowed to question him.
Pakistani authorities had arrested seven men, including LeT operations commander Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi, for the Mumbai attacks though their trial in an anti-terrorism court never made any headway. Lakhvi was subsequently released on bail and his current whereabouts aren’t known.