A recorded phone call in which a Chicago businessman praises the gunmen who carried out the 2008 attacks in Mumbai is proof he was "playing on the same team" as an admitted terrorist and longtime friend who helped lay the groundwork for the deadly three-day siege, a federal prosecutor said Tuesday.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Victoria Peters told jurors during closing arguments that it was clear Tahawwur Rana knew and helped his friend, David Coleman Headley, as he took video surveillance in Mumbai before the attacks that killed more than 160 people, including six Americans.
Headley was the government's star witnesses in the federal terrorism trial and testified for five days about working for both Pakistan's main intelligence agency, known as the ISI, and Lashkar-e-Taiba, a Pakistani terrorist group that took credit for the siege on India's largest city.
The trial has been followed closely around the world, especially because it happened on the heels of 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.
Peters zeroed in on a Sept. 7, 2009, phone call between the men where they discussed the Mumbai attacks and Headley talked about future targets, including a Danish newspaper that in 2005 printed cartoons of Prophet Muhammad, angering many Muslims. That plot was never carried out.
She showed an English transcript of the conversation, which took place in Urdu during a car ride and was recorded by the FBI, showing that Rana had praised the Mumbai gunmen, saying they should be honored.
"Rana and Headley were playing on the same team," Peters said. "These two old friends don't just talk about past accomplishments, they talk about future goals."
Rana, a Pakistani-born Canadian who has lived in Chicago for years, did not testify at his trial. He is accused of providing cover for Headley by letting him open a branch office of his immigration law services business and pose as a representative as he carried out surveillance for the Mumbai attacks and the Danish plot.
Peters led the courtroom through a timeline of more than a dozen emails and recorded conversations in the case, including brief ones exchanged between Rana and ISI member known only as "Major Iqbal," whom Headley testified gave him orders on the Mumbai plots.
Peters said Rana, who printed business cards for Headley and arranged some of his travel, had knowledge of all the plots and all those involved. She asked jurors to appeal to their common sense.
"Rana knew Headley's main purpose," Peters said. "He was not a dupe, he was not a fool."
Rana has pleaded not guilty to three counts: conspiring to provide material support to terrorism in India, Denmark and to Lashkar-e-Taiba, which the U.S. has designated as a terrorist organization. Rana could be sentenced to life in prison if convicted.
Headley and Rana met as teens at a Pakistani boarding school and have stayed in touch.
Defense attorneys have tried to paint Headley as lacking in credibility and have 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. Defense attorneys were expected to make their closing arguments later Tuesday.
Six others are charged in absentia in the case, including Ilyas Kashmiri, who was believed to be al-Qaida's military operations chief in Pakistan. He was reportedly killed Friday in a U.S. missile strike.