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Rana sentenced in US, but NIA to stick to its chargesheet

January 18, 2013 00:28 IST

The National Investigation Agency will now push for the questioning of Tawwahur Rana who was sentenced by a Chicago court on Thursday night for aiding the Lashkar-e-Tayiba and also the never carried out 'Mickey Mouse' project or the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten case.

NIA officials say that though he had been cleared of any direct involvement in the 26/11 attack, they would continue to pursue the case in India as per the chargesheet that has been filed.

"While we are well within our rights to seek an extradition, we would first focus on questioning him first. There was a delay due to this particular ongoing trial in Chicago and now that it has been complete, we could speed up the process," the official said.

"Rana may prefer an appeal, but that should not stand in the way of our questioning and we may not have to wait for that appeal to be complete," he added.

However, the NIA is also aware that a case for extradition became weaker ever since Rana was cleared of a direct role in the 26/11 attack. The NIA would have to put up a very strong case in order to demand an extradition, but then again the practical problem in this case is that the agency is very dependant on what the US is providing.

"The sentencing and the decision of a court in the United States is not what will guide our case," said an NIA official when asked about the progress being made in the 26/11 attack case particularly against Rana.

"We have enough evidence to convict him. The investigation conducted by the federal agencies and also our own team would clearly indicate that he is not innocent and he was aware of the entire plot," he added.

"During our questioning of David Headley, we were told that he tried to make a fool out of Rana, but there is no truth in that statement. Rana was aware of the plot and although his role is not as big as that of Headley, he was still in the know of things. Even our own chargesheet describes the manner in which Rana helped Headley with the travel," said an official.

"Had Rana not helped Headley with his travel, then the latter would not have been able to move around with such ease. It was in 2006 that Rana helped Headley open an immigration office, which was in fact, was used to facilitate his travel and also survey targets for the 26/11 attack," added the official.

The NIA also states that there is ample evidence to show that each time Headley returned to the US, he met with Rana first and briefed him about the progress.

NIA officials say that they are waiting to question Rana as there are certain things that they want to verify before proceeding with the case.

"His interaction with Major Iqbal is a suspicious one. The major was the primary handler for both Rana and Headley for the 26/11 attack and also the Mickey Mouse project. There has been a telephonic conversation between Rana and the Major. While this would be a hard angle to crack since it's up to Pakistan's to provide the voice samples," said the official.

Also there was an email in which the Major seeks to know about a project. While this could be argued that the question being asked was about the Mickey Mouse project, the NIA says that this project and the 26/11 attacks had the same set of handlers. Hence Rana would be lying if he says he was unaware of this project.

The NIA says that if it does manage to get access to Rana, it would also make another request to question Headley. "Our concern is the 26/11 case and the verdict of the US court on the same issue will not have much of a bearing on our investigation," reiterated the official.

However,for the NIA there is a long way to go before it could even close the case. It had decided to visit Pakistan and interview the witnesses and the investigators.

The NIA says that there are too many diplomatic hassles in this case as the accused are all outside the country. The US may not allow an extradition, but the NIA would be pleased if they manage to question Rana. That is, if the NIA manages ample proof against Rana in the days to come.

While going through the chargesheet that was filed by the NIA, it becomes clear that there was a direct link between the major, Rana and Headley.

Each of them worked in tandem, and although Rana's role was smaller, it was still important, because it helped Headley carry out his job for the 26/11 attack which killed over 170 people.

Vicky Nanjappa