Unaware they were being secretly recorded on a long car ride, two Chicago men spoke openly in September of how they knew about plans for the terror attacks that killed nearly 170 people last year in Mumbai, India, federal investigators alleged for the first time Monday.
In a conversation about a month before one of them was arrested on his way to Pakistan, the two men are alleged to have chatted about how they had known that the terror spree, in which 10 gunmen ran between hotels and other public places shooting people indiscriminately, was about to begin.
During the car ride, one of the Chicagoans, Tahawwur Hussain Rana, went so far as to ask the other, David Coleman Headley, to pass along congratulations to the planner of the coordinated attack, a leader of the militant Pakistani organization Lashkar-e-Taiba, U.S. officials allege.
"In the world, if there had been ... a medal for command, top class," Rana is quoted as saying.
Those words are among the newest allegations unveiled Monday in the federal case linking the two Chicago residents to terror plots in Copenhagen, Mumbai and elsewhere. Headley is charged with scouting out attack locations, and Rana -- owner of a local immigration consulting business -- is under investigation for possibly financing his travels, sources have said.
The new court filing, submitted in an effort to keep Rana in custody, suggests he was in much closer contact with others linked to the plots than previously alleged. It also was meant to counter claims by Rana's attorney that he was merely a businessman who followed the peaceful Pakistani philosophy Iqbal Society.
"It is quite clear that Rana is no Gandhi," prosecutors wrote in the filing, which also alleges ties between the two Chicago men and one of the militant leaders who reportedly gave real-time instructions by radio to the terrorists during the assault.
With Headley's cooperation, investigators are continuing to piece together one of the most significant terror cases in recent years, and U.S. officials are investigating whether there could be other recruiters, financiers and operatives of Lashkar using the U.S. as a planning base.
Sources have said they do not believe Headley was involved in planning any operation with American targets, despite Lashkar's connection to al-Qaida, in part because the Pakistani-American considered the U.S. to be one of his homes.
Federal authorities accuse Headley of traveling at least five times to India at Lashkar's direction, under the guise of being a representative of the immigration business, in order to take video of target sites and even taking a boat ride through the harbor to determine the best locations for the Mumbai attack team to make its landing.
Headley and Rana already were charged in October with conspiring to attack the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten over its publication of cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad that sparked riots in the Muslim world. Authorities have said Headley again traveled as a scout for that planned attack, going so far as visiting the newspaper and telling employees there he was working for the immigration business.
Since then, allegations in the case have continued to trickle out, and FBI Director Robert Mueller traveled to Chicago late last week to be briefed on the case while a group of FBI agents was in India and Pakistan as part of the probe.
The new filing comes as Rana is set to appear at the Dirksen U.S. Courthouse in Chicago on Tuesday for a judge to decide whether he should remain detained in the newspaper case pending a trial.
In their written bid to keep him behind bars, prosecutors alleged that Rana was in Dubai speaking with retired military officer Abdur Rehman Hashim Syed just days before the Mumbai assault. Syed, a man Rana knows as "Pasha," also is charged in the newspaper plot.
Sources said investigators used a bug in a car in September to capture Headley and Rana discussing the Dubai meeting. The filing states that Headley recalled how Rana was told by Syed that the attacks were about to happen, and Rana said he was on a plane when "this has started."
"In Mumbai, yeah," Headley said, according to a partial transcript that was part of the government filing.
"Yeah," Rana answered.
The new court filing also alleges for the first time that the U.S. government believes Lashkar's alleged handler for Headley, who also knew Rana, is the individual "who had coordinated the attacks" in Mumbai.
And it alleges that the Lashkar operative is one of the people who can be heard on intercepts giving real-time guidance to the 10 Lashkar gunmen on how to continue their three-day assault, which ultimately killed 166 people, including six Americans.
Even though the Justice Department has identified that individual in the court documents only as "LeT Member A," U.S. and Pakistani officials believe he goes by the name Sajid Mir, and that he is Lashkar's head of international operations, or attacks outside Pakistan.
One senior Pakistani official said Pakistani authorities are still trying to determine the exact identity of Mir, and that while they believe he also uses several aliases, he was a ranking member of the Pakistani army until several years ago. Pakistani authorities also believe Headley, Rana and Mir attended the same military high school, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the case publicly.
The FBI arrested Headley, 49, on Oct. 3 as he was trying to board a flight that ultimately was to have taken him to Pakistan to visit his contacts there about the newspaper plans, officials said.
Rana, 48, was taken into custody Oct. 18, the same day as a raid on his immigration business and a Grundy County meat-processing plant that has ties to him.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times