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Chicago businessman gets 14 years for role in Danish terrorist plot

by Carrie Eidson
Jan 17, 2013

A Chicago man convicted of conspiring to attack a Danish newspaper that printed cartoons offensive to Muslims was sentenced in federal court to 14 years in prison Thursday.

Tahawwur Rana was sentenced for his 2011 conviction in the plot against the Jyllands-Poster newspaper, as well as his financial support of Lashkar-e-Taiba, a Pakistani group responsible for the 2008 attacks in Mumbai that killed 160 people.

"This serious prison sentence should go a long way towards convincing would-be terrorists that they can’t hide behind the scenes, lend support to the violent aims of terrorist organizations, and escape detection and punishment,” said Gary S. Shapiro, acting United States Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois, in a statement.

Defense attorneys had argued that Rana, a doctor and small business owner, had been manipulated into his involvement with both the Pakistani group and the Danish plot by David Headly, Rana’s lifelong friend who was convicted in 2011 of conspiring in the Mumbai attacks.

“He is a good man and he got sucked into something, but there’s no risk that he’ll do it again,” defense attorney Patrick Blegen told the judge.

However, U.S. District Judge Harry D. Leinenweber said he could not understand the mindset that would allow Rana to participate in a plot that, if successful, would have killed or injured many people.

“We have on the one hand a very intelligent person capable of providing assistance and has provided assistance to many people,” Leinenweber said. “What’s difficult to understand is how a person with that intelligence and history of caring for people … how such a person could get sucked into a dastardly plot.”

Rana was convicted in 2011 of helping Headly travel to Denmark in order to scout the newspaper building as part of the plot to behead its employees. Rana assisted Headly in purchasing his airfare and also helped him to pose as Rana’s employee in order to gain access to the newspaper by pretending to purchase an advertisement. Rana was also convicted of providing financial support to Lashkar-e-Taiba, but acquitted of the more serious charge of conspiring in the 2008 Mumbai attacks.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Daniel Collins had asked that Rana be sentenced using a terrorism enhancement, a sentencing guideline that would allow for a more severe sentence of 30 years. However, the enhancement requires that attacks be made against a government and the defense argued that Rana had participated in a plot against a newspaper, a private organization.

Leinenweber agreed, saying he believed Rana and Headly’s intent was to intimidate the press and other people who would publish cartoons offensive to Muslims, not the Danish government.

Rana’s sentence calls for 5 years of supervised release, following the 14 years in prison. An attorney for Rana said at a post-trial press conference that Rana is unlikely to serve the supervised release as he will most likely be deported to his native Canada.

Defense attorneys also said that Rana suffered a heart attack while in prison and remains in poor condition, requesting that he be placed in an institution with appropriate medical facilities. The judge said he would honor their request.

Headly, who cooperated with prosecutors and testified as their witness at Rana’s trial, will face sentencing in Chicago later this month. He faces a maximum life sentence.