The refusal by a Chicago court to conduct a retrial plea of Tahawwur Rana, the Pakistani-Canadian accused in the 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks, is a shot in the arm for the Indian agencies who have been looking to question him, says Vicky Nanjappa. This also boosts the chances for the Indian external ministry team which is in the United States.
For the National Investigating Agency, Rana is a major player in the 26/11 attacks. Although the court in the US did not find enough evidence regarding his role in the attack, it found him guilty of charges relating to a terrorism-related case in Denmark.
An Indian delegation, which is in the US, would during its talks with US Secretary for State Hillary Clinton broach the subject of Rana. India will have to impress upon the US regarding the urgency and importance of Rana's interrogation.
Sources in the NIA say that even though the US court has not found him guilty, it would not mean that India has to close its case against Rana.
"We have found ample evidence through local sources and through Pakistani American Lashkar-e-Tayiba operative David Headley's interrogation regarding Rana's involvement," NIA sources said.
But it may not be as easy as it looks. In Headley's case, it was comparatively easier, since he had readily agreed to cooperate with the US agencies while seeking a plea bargain deal.
The US agencies were able to convince him to be questioned by the NIA. Rana, on the other hand, has decided to fight out the allegations against him. He has been defiant of the charges against him and despite many attempts has refused to enter into a plea bargain like Headley.
"Hence, there would be a great deal of legal and paper work required once India manages to convince the US," said a source.
India, however, believes that if the US sanctions the questioning, it would happen in the next few months. An NIA team, which probed Headley in the US is already on standby, and would leave for the US once they get the green signal.
Indian agencies say that the questioning can take place before the sentencing and there is no restriction on probing an accused who is awaiting sentence.
"It was difficult in the midst of the trial, and the fact that he had decided to appeal and seek a retrial only delayed the process further," said a source. The questioning will be on the lines of the original case slapped against Rana, which said that he had helped the LeT with the 26/11 operation.
The NIA which has filed a chargesheet against Headley before the Delhi court finds itself stuck without Rana's version in it.
"The manner in which Rana allegedly helped Headley with the travel papers to India and whether there was any local help used for the logistics and documentation is something that remains a mystery without Rana's version," said the source.
Rana has never said he was working for the LeT, but has admitted that has was a part of the Inter-Services Intelligence.
India would be interested to know his role with the ISI, and if they can find more information about other operatives such as Sajid Mir and Major Iqbal.