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Headley, Rana in the same prison but never meet

January 26, 2010 13:26 IST

Lashkar-e-Tayiba operatives David Coleman Headley and Tahawwur Rana, friends from a military school in Pakistan and facing charges of conspiring 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks, have not been in contact with each other or met despite being in the same federal lock-up.

"They are not in contact with each other at the Metropolitan Correctional Centre. They are not meeting or even eating in the same area," sources said.

Rana has pleaded not guilty to helping his old friend Headley in plotting the terror attacks in Mumbai that claimed 166 lives. He also entered the not guilty plea to charges of providing material support in the Denmark terror plot and to the banned Pakistani militant group.

Rana's friendship with Headley dates back to the Pakistani military school known as Cadet College Hasan Abdal, where both were students.

According to government affidavits, Rana and Headley maintained e-mail contact with other former students, including officers in Pakistan's military. They belonged to a group of the school's graduates who referred to themselves as the 'abdalians' on Internet postings.

Prosecutors allege that Rana helped Headley by allowing him to use his immigration company as a cover for surveillance trips to India and Denmark.

After the January 14 indictment that charged Rana and Headley with plotting the Mumbai and Denmark terror plots, it was generally thought that the two would be brought in court together for their arraignments.

However, Rana and Headley are appearing separately to respond to the charges against them. While Pakistani-Canadian Rana was arraigned on Monday, Headley would appear in court before Magistrate Judge Arlander Keys on January 27.

Sources say with Headley "cooperating in the investigation", authorities may not want to bring them together at court hearings or even at the MCC.

Rana's lawyer Patrick Blegen said while he has "known" Headley's attorney John Theis for a long time, "there is not much they can tell me and not much I can tell them".

Rana is held on a floor on the MCC, in downtown Chicago that is designated for people who have committed some offence within the institution.

"He is under very strict rules and requirements. It is a very difficult situation and we are hoping that he can concentrate on assisting us in fighting the case since the MCC is not a great place to be," Blegen told reporters after the arraignment hearing at the US District Court, Northern District of Illinois.

Rana cannot move within the centre without "a three-man hold" -- he is escorted by three correctional officers wherever he goes.

"He is in a very small room all by himself for almost 24 hours a day. It is much more difficult to visit him than a typical inmate of the MCC," Blegen said.

So far only Rana's wife, Samraz Akhtar Rana has been able to visit him. His three children have not visited him yet.

Blegen said that his client does not get much access to the law library "as much as I would like but we are trying to deal with those issues with the MCC and they are doing their best to accommodate us. It is a difficult situation".

On how Rana is keeping up during the investigation, Blegen said, "He is a pleasant man. He agrees with me on the not guilty plea".

Rana, who owns an immigration consultancy firm, a grocery store and a slaughterhouse, is however now finding it difficult to pay for the legal fees.

Blegen said Rana cannot afford to pay for his defence. The attorney said he will ask US District Judge Harry Leinenweber, who is presiding over the case, to appoint him as Rana's court-appointed and government-paid counsel.

While Rana may have some money, "he does not have enough to fund the defence of a large, federal criminal case and virtually nobody does," Blegen said, adding that one would have to be "an extraordinarily wealthy person to afford that or a corporation".

In his motions seeking bail, Blegen said Rana's businesses "have effectively been destroyed" since the investigation began, that also saw federal agents raiding his businesses.

Yoshita Singh in Chicago
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