Chicago: Tahawwur Rana, an accomplice of convicted terrorist David Headley, was on Thursday sentenced to 14 years in jail followed by five years of supervised release by a US court for providing material support to Pakistan-based LeT and for backing a plot to strike a Danish newspaper.
52-year-old Pakistani-Canadian Rana was sentenced by the Chicago federal court despite his defence attorneys seeking a lighter sentence of not more than a 9-year jail term, citing his poor health.
US prosecutors had sought 30 years for Rana, who his lawyers said was duped into participation by his school-time friend Headley.
Rana was convicted in June 2011 by a federal grand jury, which found the businessman guilty of providing material support to LeT and planning an aborted plot to bomb the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten.
Rana, who was originally arrested in 2009 for his involvement in the 26/11 Mumbai attacks, was acquitted of that charge.
However, Indian investigators have accused him of being involved in the Mumbai attacks that killed 166 people and are seeking to question him for the second time.
Headley, who conducted reconnaissance of the targets of the Mumbai terror attacks for LeT, had entered a plea bargain with the FBI, saving himself from a possible death penalty.
Acting US attorney Gary S Shapiro has requested the Chicago court in a position paper that Rana be handed down a total of 30 years in prison.
Referring to the heart attack Rana suffered in June 2012 and the hospitalisation thereafter, his attorney Patrick W Blegan had told the court earlier, "It is likely that his health will continue to deteriorate. He will likely at some point require dialysis due to his kidney disease, and is, of course, at risk for a second heart attack or vasovagal event".
Pakistan-born, Rana is a naturalized Canadian citizen who later on moved to Chicago for business purposes and has been living here for more than a decade now.
Rana is the first of the eight co-defendants who were indicted by the federal prosecutors in October, to be sentenced by the Chicago Court.
Sentencing of Headley has been scheduled for January 24. In March 2010, he pleaded guilty to all 12 counts against him, including aiding and abetting the murders of the six American victims.
Facing a maximum sentence of life in prison, Headley cooperated with the government since he was arrested in October 2009, and testified as a government witness at Rana's trial.
Among other six indicted by the FBI, include Ilyas Kashmiri, influential terrorist organisation leader in Pakistan who is in regular contact with of al-Qaida leaders; and Abdur Rehman Hashim Syed (Abdur Rehman), a retired major in the Pakistani military, both of whom were charged in two conspiracy counts relating to the Denmark terrorism plot. .
Terror label key in Rana's sentence
Although Rana was acquitted of terrorism charges, the question of whether he should be considered one for sentencing purposes likely was the focus of the hearing. Federal guidelines require stiffer sentences for those deemed to have engaged in terrorism.
Prosecutors had argued in pretrial filings this week that the Pakistani-born Canadian fits the definition of a terrorist. They say he laughed in secretly recorded conversations at the prospect of victims being beheaded in Denmark and responded to the massacres in Mumbai by saying the victims "deserved it."
Jurors had cleared Rana of the third and most serious charge of involvement in the three-day rampage in Mumbai.
Acquittal on that charge, prosecutors argue, doesn't lessen the reality that Rana was bent on committing terrorism.
"The goal," one of its filings said about the Danish plot, "was murder on a grand, horrific scale."
The core of the defense argument was that Rana acquiesced to provide help to a key figure in the attack on Mumbai, David Coleman Headley, out of a misguided sense of loyalty going back to their days as childhood friends.
Headley, an American Pakistani who has pleaded guilty to laying the groundwork for the Mumbai attacks, was the star witness at Rana's trial. He testified to avoid the death penalty and extradition. He will be sentenced next week in the same Chicago courtroom
Rana was accused of allowing Headley to open a branch of his Chicago-based immigration law business in Mumbai as a cover story and to travel as a representative of the company in Denmark. In court, a travel agent showed how Rana booked travel for Headley.
"The two continued their friendship throughout their lives," the defense filing says. "But while Headley lived a life of crime and excess, Rana lived a full and productive life ... starting several businesses, getting married and raising three children ... This continued friendship and loyalty to Headley ultimately led to Rana's downfall."
The defense filing had described his crimes as an aberration.
"Rana is a kind, hardworking, dedicated, charitable, compassionate family man," it says. "He made the unfortunate mistake of becoming involved in the activities of his oldest -- and most manipulative -- friend."
It added, "Rana is quite simply not a terrorist."
Prosecutors blasted the notion Rana displayed any such naivete, highlighting how in some of his communications he took pains to use coded language. Rana, the government filing said, had "engaged in extensive terrorist tradecraft."
Far from being hoodwinked by Headley, Rana "made his own decision to participate ... and, once he did, did so whole-heartedly."
Prosecutors also sought to discredit letters Rana's family, including his wife, sent recently to the judge describing Rana as a loving father and appealing for leniency.
Rana's wife, prosecutors argued, held a different opinion of her husband until right before his arrest. They cite a secretly recorded conversation in which she calls Headley "absolutely crazy" and quickly adds Rana is much like him.
"They talk nonsense all day, idiots. That's not how Islam spreads!... Such as, 'Kill him, he is not practicing like us -- kill him, do that to him, do this to him, he is like this,'" she allegedly says. "Is this how Islam spreads? ... Hatred spreads like this, not Islam."
At Rana's trial, Headley spent five days detailing how he allegedly worked for both the Pakistani intelligence agency, known as the ISI, and Lashkar. Some observers had expected testimony could reveal details about alleged links between ISI and Lashkar, though much that came out in testimony had been heard before through indictments and a report released by India's government.
The Pakistani government has maintained it did not know about Osama bin Laden or help plan the Mumbai attacks.