Headley Accomplice Rana Sticks to 'Not Guilty' Plea

Chicago, March 30 (IANS) Pakistani-Canadian terror suspect Tahawwur Hussain Rana, charged with playing a role in the November 2008 deadly Mumbai terror attacks, will not change his 'not guilty' plea to avoid a trial in court, according to his lawyer.

Pakistan-born Rana, 49, dressed in an orange jump suit, appeared before Judge Harry Leinenweber in the US District court here Monday for a pre-trial conference where prosecutors moved to declassify some information related to his case.

US Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald, who was present at the hearing, said he hopes to declassify a substantial amount of material gathered in the investigation against Rana. By doing so, the government would have to rely as little as possible on extraordinary secrecy procedures, which would be preferable, Fitzgerald said.

Next hearing for scheduling the handling of classified information in the case has been set for May 11. A ruling on the move to declassify documents is not expected until September, with the trial beginning some time after that.

It was Rana's first appearance in the court since his alleged co-conspirator, Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) operative David Coleman Headley, pleaded guilty on March 18 for his role in plotting the Mumbai attacks. Rana faces a maximum of 15 years in prison.

Rana's lawyer Patrik Blegen later told reporters his client will not change his 'not guilty' plea and they will go ahead with the trial. He said he was not surprised that Headley had pleaded guilty, but believed Rana still has a "strong case".

Rana, a Canadian citizen who is also accused of helping plan an attack on Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten for publishing cartoons of Prophet Mohammed in 2005, has pleaded not guilty to conspiring to provide material support to terrorists in both Denmark and India.

Rana has claimed that he was duped by Headley. But Headley has confessed he shared with Rana details of his trips to Pakistan and his association with LeT. In turn, Rana extensively helped him carry out the attacks in Mumbai.

Rana also allowed Headley to use his business, First World Immigration Services, as a cover while he scouted for terror targets in Mumbai, according to Headley's plea agreement.

Rana, who moved to Canada in 1997, and Headley have been friends since they were children in Pakistan. Before his arrest, he divided most of his time between his Ottawa home and looking after his business interests in Chicago.


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