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26/11: Rana's trial begins in Chicago

May 17, 2011 01:05 IST

The trial of Pakistani-Canadian Tahawwur Hussain Rana who is accused with David Coleman Headley for the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks began in Chicago on Tuesday.

Rana, a 50-year-old Chicago businessman, is accused of helping his childhood friend, Headley, to scout targets for the militant group Lashkar-e-Tayiba for the Mumbai attack that killed 166 people, including six Americans.

The trial began with the jury selection process at the Dirksen Federal Courthouse. A total of 100 jurors filled out the questionnaire and will be questioned by United States District Court Judge Harry Leinenweber tomorrow in what is supposedly the most important terrorism trial ever to be held in Chicago.

After the jury is finalised this week, the opening arguments of the case will be presented by both sides. Rana with his gray beard and hair and wearing spectacles was accompanied with his attorneys Patrick Blegen and Charlie Swift.

"It is the beginning of jury selection and jurors are filling out the questionnaire even as we speak," Blegen told mediapersons. "It's the best way to select a jury," he added.

The questionnaire jurors will fill out has more than 60 questions. It will ask questions about Islam, and jurors' feeling about Islam. Swift said that since 80 per cent of Americans distrust Islam, Rana needed fair jurors.

"There is only one verdict the jury will reveal - not guilty," Rana's attorney, Charlie Swift said. Swift said that the jury needed people who are ethnically and racially diverse, men, women, young, old, who could put aside their prejudice and biases.

"People hailing from India, Denmark and Pakistan would most likely be disqualified," Blegen said. Blegen said that Rana was handling the ongoing trial as best as he can. "Mr Rana is very nice and polite and is handling a difficult situation with grace and much better than I'd be handling it," Blegen said.

Blegen said that jurors who can put aside emotions and can rule based on faith and logic were needed. Headley is also likely to testify at the trial and will reveal how he planned to carry out the Mumbai attacks.

While Headley pleaded guilty, Rana has not. Headley, Rana's old friend from military school in Pakistan, claims that two years before terrorists struck the Indian port city of Mumbai, he began laying the groundwork for the attack, financed by $25,000 from an officer in Pakistan's powerful intelligence service.

Rana, on the other hand, said that he was duped by Headley. Blegen said that the conviction rates are high for Rana, he could overcome it.

"A lot of revelations will come forth and and will come to light during the trial," Blegen added. On April 25, in a second superseding indictment, US prosecutors charged four additional men, all Pakistani residents, in the 26/11 terror attacks that left 166 dead, including six Americans.

Headley, who was originally Daood Gilani, changed and anglicised his name in order to carry out the carnage without disclosing his Pakistani identity. Rana, who had served as a doctor in the Pakistani Army Medical Corps, before he migrated to Canada, is also accused in plotting an attack with Headley on a Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten that published cartoons of Prophet Muhammad.

Rana, who was indicted by a federal grand jury under 12 counts on February 15 last year for planning the attacks, providing material support to LeT to carry out the attacks and guiding Headley in scouting targets in Mumbai in the process, is set to go on trial in Chicago on Wednesday.

Arrested in Chicago over the Mumbai attacks, Rana had claimed that he provided "material support" to 26/11 terrorists at the behest of Pakistani government and the Inter-Services Intelligence. If convicted, Rana faces a possible life sentence.

Himani Kumar in Chicago
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