Chicago Terror Trial Raises More Questions About Pakistan’s Intelligence Agency

By Patrick Goodenough | May 25, 2011 | 5:10 AM EDT

Mumbai’s Taj Hotel was one of the targets of a deadly Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) attack in November 2008. Almost 170 people, six Americans among them, were killed by 10 terrorists from Pakistan during the 60-hour assault in India’s commercial capital. (AP Photo)

( – In a trial that could hardly come at a worse time for the Pakistani government, a court in Chicago is hearing testimony that may implicate the country’s military intelligence agency in a major terrorist attack.

Pakistan-born U.S. national David Headley, a confessed terrorist, is testifying in the case of a Pakistani-Canadian who faces 12 counts relating to the alleged provision of material support to the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) terrorist group.

The defendant, Tahawwur Rana, is accused of helping Headley and others to scout potential terror targets ahead of LeT’s November 2008 assault in Mumbai, India, which left 166 people dead, including six Americans.

During the 60-hour episode, gunmen attacked a railway station, two hospitals, a municipal facility, a cinema, a cafe, a bank and two hotels. They also sought out and killed an Israeli-born rabbi, his wife, and four other Jews at a Chabad-Lubavitch center.

LeT was set up in the late 1980s with the backing of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency, to fight Indian rule in disputed Kashmir. Its activities today include anti-coalition operations in Afghanistan, and a top U.S. military officer told U.S. lawmakers last month the group poses a “global threat.”

The ISI has long denied accusations of colluding with terrorists, including LeT, the Afghan Taliban and its notorious Haqqani network, and – in allegations reinforced by the location of Osama bin Laden’s hideout – al-Qaeda.

Last year, Headley pleaded guilty to carrying out reconnaissance for the Mumbai attacks and also planning attacks in Denmark to avenge the publication of cartoons satirizing Mohammed, the Islamic prophet.

Testifying in the trial of Rana – and six co-defendants, all fugitive – now underway in Chicago, Headley on Tuesday described meetings with and receiving funds from his ISI handler, a man named as “Major Iqbal,” in the run-up to the Mumbai attack.

Among other things, Iqbal wanted the attackers to target Mumbai airport and a Naval Air Station, he said. Iqbal had also tasked him to locate and provide GPS coordinates for the Chabad center, which Headley said the ISI man suspected was a front for the Mossad.

Rana, owner of a Chicago-based immigration service, is accused of providing Headley with a cover – running a Mumbai office of the service – that enabled him to carry out the target surveillance.

Rana’s attorney says he plans to show in court that Headley was not a credible witness and that he had duped his client.

But, on arguably the most explosive issue at stake in the trial – the role of ISI  – Rana also has fingered the Pakistani agency.

Ahead of the trial, Rana lodged a defense in which he said he believed his actions were undertaken on behalf of the ISI.

It that defense, Rana argued that the ISI had the authority to act in India to protect Pakistan’s national interests, and that he should therefore be immune to prosecution in the U.S. under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act. A judge on April 1 rejected the argument.

Some documents in the case – reportedly as many as a quarter of the total – have been filed under seal. On Wednesday, attorneys for the Chicago Tribune will appear to present a motion to intervene and “challenge the wholesale filing of documents under seal,” according to a notice of motion lodged on Monday.

The Tribune’s application includes a quote from one of its own reports, saying that the case was likely to be “the most important terrorism trial ever in Chicago” and that testimony is “expected to reveal a troubling link between at least one of

Rana’s co-defendants and Pakistan’s largest intelligence agency.”

The Rana trial was cited on Capitol Hill on Tuesday. At a hearing on al-Qaeda, Rep. Ed Royce (R-Calif.), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs subcommittee on terrorism, nonproliferation and trade, said the location of bin Laden’s hideout had raised fresh doubts about Pakistan and whether the ISI was “complicit or just incompetent.”

“A terrorism trial in Chicago heard testimony this week that ISI provided ‘financial and military’ assistance to the LeT, the group that killed more than 160 in the Mumbai massacre, including six Americans,” Royce said.

“In the past ten years, Pakistan has received nearly $20 billion in U.S. aid. Simply put, our Pakistan policy isn’t working.”

Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow