Closing arguments to start in Mumbai terror trial

June 7, 2011 - 2:12 AM

CHICAGO (AP) — Closing arguments were to begin Tuesday in the high-profile terrorism trial of a Chicago businessman accused in the deadly 2008 Mumbai attacks that left more than 160 people dead.

Federal prosecutors allege Tahawwur Rana assisted his friend David Coleman Headley, an admitted terrorist who was the government's star witness. Headley, an American-Pakistani, testified for five days about working for both the Pakistani intelligence agency known by the acronym ISI and Lashkar-e-Taiba, a militant group that took credit for the Mumbai rampage in India's largest city.

The trial has been followed closely by many, especially since it happened on the heels Osama bin Laden's May 2 killing in Pakistan by U.S. forces. The fact that the al-Qaida leader had been living in an army garrison town outside the Pakistani capital for years raised suspicions that the Pakistani government knew, or even helped hide, bin Laden. Pakistani officials have denied the accusations.

Prosecutors, whose case also relied on numerous emails and recorded conversations, called eight witnesses, mostly FBI agents to bolster Headley's testimony.

Rana, a Pakistani-born Canadian, did not testify at his trial. He has pleaded not guilty to assisting Headley as he carried out surveillance for the Mumbai attacks and a planned attack on a Danish newspaper that in 2005 printed cartoons of Prophet Muhammad. The cartoons angered many Muslims because pictures of the prophet are prohibited in Islam.

Headley and Rana met as teens at a Pakistani boarding school and have stayed in touch. Rana, who owns several businesses in the Chicago area, allegedly provided cover for Headley to open a branch office of his immigration law business in Mumbai and travel as a representative on the company's behalf.

Defense attorneys have tried to paint Headley as an uncredible witness and focused questioning on how Headley initially lied to the FBI as he cooperated, lied to a judge and even lied to his own family. They claim he named Rana in the plot because he wanted to make a deal with prosecutors and had to provide another arrest. Headley's cooperation means he avoids the death penalty and extradition to India, Pakistan and Denmark.

"Mr. Headley is about the most unreliable witness that has ever trod into a courtroom and that will become clear in closing argument," Rana attorney Charles Swift told reporters.

Prosecutors have not commented during the trial.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Victoria Peters was expected to deliver closing arguments for the prosecution along with Rana attorney Patrick Blegen for the defense. The case then heads to the jury.

Six others are charged in absentia in the case, including Ilyas Kashmiri who was reportedly killed Friday in a U.S. missile strike and was believed to be al-Qaida's military operations chief in Pakistan.

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Sophia Tareen can be reached at http://twitter.com/sophiatareen