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ISI helped LeT in 26/11 attacks: Headley

May 24, 2011 07:39 AM IST India India
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New Delhi: The crucial trial of Pakistani-Canadian Tahawwur Hussain Rana, who is a co-accused in the 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks, began in Chicago on Monday. David Coleman Headley, the key plotter, was first to take the stand. He told the court that Pakistan's Intelligence Agency, ISI, had connections with the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) and that the two organisations coordinated with each other for financial and military support. Headley also claimed he had been trained by the LeT after the 9/11 attacks. During opening statements at Chicago's Dirksen Federal Building, Assistant US Attorney Sarah Streicker said that Rana, a Pakistani-Canadian, told Headley, an American of Pakistani origin, after the Mumbai carnage in which 166 persons were killed in November 2008 that the "Indians deserved it." The prosecution said that both Rana and Headley had links with the ISI, and that Rana provided cover for Headley when he recced targets in Mumbai. Streicker said Rana provided cover for his longtime friend Headley who took photos and videos of targets in Mumbai before the attacks and that Rana led Headley to pose as a representative for his Chicago-based immigration businesses. Rana's lawyer Charlie Swift hit back by saying his client had been duped by Headley and had no idea about the plot against India. Rana did not know that his business was used as a cover, Swift said, adding Headley had a bad boy's image in college. "The defendant didn't carry a gun or throw a grenade. In a complicated and sophisticated plot, not every player carries a weapon. People like the defendant who provide support are just as critical to the success," Streicker said. Rana's attorneys say that their client was simply duped by his longtime friend and didn't know what was in store for him. Headley and Rana, who had lived in Chicago for years, met at one of Pakistan's most prestigious military boarding schools and stayed in touch as adults. Swift told jurors that Headley was a "manipulative man" who "balanced multiple lives" including working for Laskhar-e-Taiba(LeT), Pakistani intelligence and the US Drug Enforcement Administration at the same time. But Steicker said Rana knew what he was getting into. She said Rana provided cover for Headley and led him to pose as a representative for his Chicago-based immigration business. "The defendant knew all too well that when Headley travels to a foreign country, people may die," Streicker said. Streicker said the government would show jurors evidence including emails between Headley and Rana that were written in code. She said Headley considered Rana "his best friend in the world". Rana is the seventh name on the indictment list, and the only defendant in custody. Among the six others charged in absentia is "Major Iqbal" and Sajid Mir, allegedly another LeT supervisor who also "handled" Headley. David Headley testified to getting help and guidance from two officers in Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence directorate, the ISI. On the stand as a star witness in the case against his childhood friend, Tahawwur Rana, Headley said he was recruited by LeT and shuttled between India, Pakistan and the United States performing surveillance and briefing his contacts and Rana. The 50-year-old Headley said he was introduced to a retired Pakistani military officer at a mosque, and reported regularly to his LeT handlers and an ISI officer named "Major Iqbal." "During my trip to Chicago, I told [Rana] about my meetings with Sajid and others in Lashkar. I also told him about my meetings with Major Iqbal, and told him how I had been asked to perform espionage work for ISI. I even told him some of the espionage stories that Major Iqbal had told me," Headley testified. "These groups operated under the umbrella of ISI... they coordinated with ISI," Headley testified under questioning by prosecutor Daniel Collins. Headley also claimed that he told the Lashkar to sue the US for designating it a terrorist organisation, but the LeT told him they'd have to check it first with the ISI. At a lunch in Pakistan in 2004, Headley suggested to Hafiz Sayeed and Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi, LeT’s spiritual and military chiefs, that they sue the US government for having designated Lashkar a terrorist organization, according to his account. “Zaki said we should take the ISI into confidence before making such a big move,” Headley testified. Headley, 50, Rana's old friend from military school in Pakistan, claims that two years before terrorists struck Mumbai, he began laying the groundwork for the attack, financed by $25,000 from an officer in Pakistan's powerful intelligence service. Interestingly, Headley also said that he had been inside the Shiv Sena complex in Mumbai and took footage. He told the court that "ISI's Major Iqbal was pretty amazed that I got inside. It was a bid deal." CNN-IBN talked to Headley's lawyer John Theis over phone. "Both sides gave their opening statements in the morning - the government and the defense lawyers. David Headley was the first eyewitness. I am not going to comment on his testimony. His statement has been recorded and I don't want to get into the depth of the testimony. The government thinks that the testimony will last for four weeks, but his testimony may end by this week," said John Theis. The trial of Rana is being closely watched worldwide for what testimony might reveal about suspected links between the Pakistan-based terror group Lashkar-e-Taiba(LeT) blamed in the attacks and the country's powerful intelligence agency ISI, which has been under scrutiny after Osama bin Laden was killed by US forces on May 2 outside Islamabad. Rana (50) has pleaded not guilty but Headley (50) his old friend from military school in Pakistan pleaded guilty. The arguments in the trial are being heard by a 12-member jury. Rana, who was indicted by a federal grand jury under 12 counts on February 15, 2010, for planning the attacks, providing material support to LeT to carry out the attacks and guiding Headley in scouting targets in Mumbai in the process. Arrested in Chicago over the Mumbai attacks, Rana had claimed that he provided "material support" to 26/11 terrorists at the behest of Pakistani government and ISI. If convicted, Rana faces a possible life sentence. Pakistan has been dismissing Headley's accusations against the ISI as little more than a desperate performance by a man hoping to avoid the death penalty. Reacting to the latest developments regarding the 26/11 trial conducted by the US, the Central Government sources said that prosecutions assertions in Chicago of ISI assistance to Headly and Rana are in the dossiers. "Will have to see if Pakistan will act against and give up the man named specifically in that chargesheet from the ISI Major Iqbal," said the Government sources. (With additional information from agencies)