Tahawuur Rana will appeal against terror sentence

Tahawuur Rana will appeal against terror sentence

Tahawwur Rana’s daughter, son and a friend wait outside the federal court in Chicago, Illinois on Thursday. Photograph: Jatinder Singh Bedi
Mumbai terror attack accused David Headley’s associate has been sentenced to 14 years of imprisonment for his LeT connection.

Tahawuur Hussain Rana, the associate of David Coleman Headley, will appeal his "conviction", Rana's senior attorney Patrick Blegan stated in Chicago. On Thursday, the Chicago District Court sentenced Rana to 14 years of imprisonment for providing material support to the Pakistan terrorist organisation Lashkar-e-Tayeeba (LeT) and plotting attacks in Denmark. He has 14 days to appeal before the appellate court in Chicago.

US District Judge Harry Leinenweber delivered the sentence by saying, "This certainly was a dastardly plot."

Before the pronouncement, the prosecution and the defence furiously locked horns over the technical intricacies of the Pre-Sentencing Report (PSR). While preparing this report, the probation officer takes multiple attributes of the convict's criminal history, his crime, its effect, and other traits to develop a numerical Offence Level Scale. The PSR forms the basis of deciding the quantum of punishment. The severity of the crime supported by additional evidence and argument may even lead to enhancement of this scale, as was the centre point of sentencing in this case.

The intricacies, in this case, involved the application of "Terrorism Enhancement," and "Grouping of Charges." These are the legal statutes within the law applied in this case. Defense Attorney Patrick Blegan's forceful argument over the application of these statutes helped Rana big time.

Felon Rana had been convicted on two counts — Count 11 and Count 12. The Count 11 involves providing support to plot terror attacks in Denmark. The Count 12 involves providing material support to LeT. Each of the two Counts carried 15 years maximum sentence; these could run consecutively, or concurrent.

While applying the Enhancement of Terrorism statute the PSR determined that the crime under 12 Count is severe enough to enhance the Offence Level Scale by 12-level enhancement. Prosecution agreed to this.

But at the same time, the Probation Officer declined to apply 12-Level enhancement to Count 11 while giving the Rana the benefit of doubt. To quote from the document: "err on the side of being conservative." This could have and seemed to have influenced the Judge to give less than maximum sentence. Intense and repeated arguments were witnessed in the Courtroom over this. The Prosecution vehemently objected. However, its evidence was ripped apart by Defense Attorney Patrick Blegan.

Blegan stated that Terrorism Enhancement does not apply here because the Denmark plot was to kill only two individuals — the cartoonist who sketched Prophet Mohammad, and the publisher of the newspaper Morgenavisen Jyllands-Posten that published them. Blegan further said that the plot did not target the Government of Denmark or its population. He also argued that dreaded Illiyas Kashmiri's suggestion of beheading the hostages and throwing their heads out of windows was a mere open suggestion, and not part of the plot. He added that the newspaper office is located in Copenhegan. It being the capital of Denmark does not imply that plot was against the government.

The application of other statute named Grouping the Charges attracted only a brief argument. The defense asked the Court to Group Count 11 and Count 12 for the sentencing purposes since both are similar in nature and amount to providing support to the LeT. The Judge immediately ruled that two Charges "must be grouped." This brought in a massive reprieve for Rana. It is through this ruling that mitigated Rana's 15 year sentence for the Denmark plot under Count 11. The total sentence, thus, resulted in 14 years imprisonment which came from the support to LeT charge under Count 12.

The sentence marked the culmination of the most watched a long drawn trial that commenced 16 May 2011 with selection of Jury and concluded 9 June 2011. Rana is under arrest since 18 October 2009 without bond.

Indian community in Chicago has expressed dissatisfaction over the quantum of sentence. It feels, it's a mild punishment.

Although Rana has been sentenced for aiding LeT and the Denmark Plot, yet he, in all the community and official circles, is being identified with Mumbai Attacks. Infact, Mumbai Attacks continued to ring all through the arguments during the day. The defense attorney Blegan, Prosecution Attorney Collins, and even the Presiding Judge Harry Leinenweber referred to the Mumbai Attacks to make a point at some point of time or other during the argument. "Mumbai was most serious...it was carried out," remarks Judge Harry Leinenweber while pronouncing the final judgment. Even the mediamen confronted Defense Attorneys Charles Swift and Patrick Blegan with questions related to Mumbai Attacks during the press briefing.

Rana, 52, a Canadian citizen, was also awarded additional five years of supervision on release.

Rana is one of two defendants to be convicted, among a total of eight defendants who have been indicted, in this case since late 2009.

Co-defendant David Coleman Headley, 52, pleaded guilty in March 2010 to 12 terrorism charges, including aiding and abetting the murders of the six Americans in Mumbai. Headley's Sentencing is coming up for pronouncement on 24 January 2013. He was entered a plea bargain with the US government, became its star witness, and escaped death sentence. He also has an agreement with the US government that he won't be extradited to India.

Indian Government has no extradition Treaty with United States. It is still under negotiation since last 20 years according to sources. Despite it not being there, India Government has sought Headley's extradition to India from US. India also does not have extradition treaty with Canada. However, in the lieu, it does have the Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty. This is a sort of legal assistance agreement that is one step short of treaty. Rana, now 52, will spend at least 12 of the 14 years sentence in US jail. His detention period since his October 2009 arrest will be adjusted against 14 years.

In this case the US government was represented by Assistant US Attorneys Daniel Collins and Sarah E. Streicker, with assistance from the Counterterrorism Section of the Justice Department's National Security Division. Federal prosecutors in Los Angeles have worked on a broader investigation of the Mumbai attacks.

The investigation has been conducted by the Chicago Joint Terrorism Task Force, led by the Chicago Office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, with assistance from FBI offices in Los Angeles, New York and Washington, D.C., as well as both U.S. Customs and Border Protection and the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI).

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