It was all just a joke.
Humour will be the legal defense in the future trial for a Chicago man arrested last week on suspicion of planning terrorist attacks in Denmark and India. The lawyer for Tahawwur Hussain Rana, 48, a Canadian national originally from Pakistan, claims his client thought the terrorist plot was all just a lark and that he was fooled by his friend and co-accused David Coleman Headley, 49.
But what the two men allegedly had in mind was anything but funny. The FBI states the two friends intended to attack the Danish newspaper, The Jyllands-Posten, for having published the Mohammed Cartoons in 2005. Radical Muslims have sworn to take vengeance against the newspaper, the cartoonists and Denmark ever since. Rana and Headley, an American citizen also of Pakistani origin, intended to make good on that threat.
Rana, who owns several businesses in Chicago, is described as the money man in the plot. Headley, who had no visible means of income, had travelled twice to Denmark this year on reconnaissance missions. On the first one, Headley even went into The Jyllands-Postens’ offices, posing as a prospective advertiser from one of Rana’s firms. Afterwards, Headley emailed his accomplice: “Everything is in order here. I went to a newspaper in order to advertise for our company.”
According to Jakob Scharf, the head of Denmark’s intelligence agency, the two America-based terrorists were considering using handguns and explosives in the attack. Scharf also states further arrests in Denmark and other countries cannot be excluded.
One of the countries Scharf is alluding to is probably Pakistan. Before travelling to Denmark, Headley, who legally changed his name from Daood Gilani in 2006, had returned to his native land and travelled to Waziristan, the headquarters of world terrorism. And the people Headley met there never joke around.
The American national’s most important meeting was with Ilyas Kashmiri, the head of Al Qaeda’s hardcore 313 Brigade. The unit’s name refers to the number of men the Prophet Mohammed had with him at the Battle of Badr in 624. Kashmiri’s importance in Pakistan’s terrorist network is such that the Pakistani government has placed a $600,000 reward on his head, while the American military has fired three Hellfire missiles at it.
Brigade 313 is actually a coalition of five of the world’s deadliest, Muslim terrorist organizations: Lashkar-e-Toiba; Jaish-e-Muhammad; Harkatul Jihad al-Islami; Harkatul Mujahideen al-Alami; and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi. Some believe the unit was created in 1991 to combat India in Kashmir, while another version has it forming a decade later in response to the American invasion of Afghanistan. What can’t be disputed, however, is its direct links with both al Qaeda and the Taliban.
The brigade’s function has been described as turning al Qaeda’s “strategic vision into reality.” According to one report, it numbers about three thousand and contains many former Pakistani army officers. One prominent member, Matiur Rehman, has been called an al Qaeda planning director and was one time believed to be Osama bin Laden’s chief in Pakistan. As al Qaeda’s terrorist muscle, 313 Brigade is responsible for many horrific attacks both inside and outside of Pakistan.
The Mumbai terrorist strike in November, 2008, that resulted in several hundred dead is considered one of them. In their 17 hours of telephone conversations held during the assault with their handlers in Pakistan, the Mumbai terrorists mentioned a “313 Brigade.” At first, Indian investigators thought the attackers were referring to the Pakistani army’s 313 Brigade; but now they believe it was the terrorist unit.
Another world headline-grabbing attack involving 313 Brigade was the Marriott Hotel bombing in Islamabad in September, 2008. Pakistani authorities believe al Qaeda sponsored the attack, which was carried out by Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and Harkatul Jihad al-Islami. The failed plot in 2006 to blow up airliners bound for the United States from Britain was also another terrorist operation involving the brigade.
The man Headley met in Waziristan, Ilyas Kashmiri, is 313 Brigade’s current leader and alleged founder. Kashmiri fought as a Pakistani army commando in the Afghanistan war against the Soviets, where he lost an eye. In the early 1990s, he joined the radical Harkatul Jihad al-Islami and fought against India in Kashmir where he earned a gruesome reputation.
According to a Pakistani journalist, after one operation in 1998, Kashmiri returned with a severed Indian officer’s head. He presented his “gift” to senior Pakistani army officers, for which he also received a monetary reward from President Pervez Musharaff. Now the darling of his country’s military establishment, photos of Kashmiri with his hideous trophy were said to have appeared in Pakistani newspapers.
The friendship didn’t last as Kashmiri later tried to assassinate Musharraf. Later, after the Musharaff government’s attack on the Red Mosque in July, 2007, Kashmiri moved to Waziristan where he linked up with the Taliban and al Qaeda. From his Waziristan base, the 313 Brigade commander has conducted many terrorist operations, including the assassination of an army major general.
With its well-known hatred for America, it is surprising al Qaeda did not have Kashmiri instruct the two Chicago men to attack a target in the United States. It is also unusual al Qaeda would contract American-based terrorists to carry out an attack in another country. But the fact even The Jyllands-Postens strike was postponed in favour of an operation against India indicates where the terrorists’ priorities now lie.
The Pakistani army’s offensive into Waziristan, launched last October 17, has the jihadists back on their heels. Unable to stand up to the modern, heavy weaponry of a well-trained army, they are desperately seeking relief from the government forces’ determined advance. A terrorist attack, similar to the Mumbai one, may do the trick. That atrocity brought both countries to the brink of war, forcing Pakistan to concentrate its troops on its Indian border.
In a recent interview from a hideout in Waziristan, Kashmiri indicated this may be al Qaeda’s strategy. In response to a question whether there would be more Mumbai-like terrorist attacks against India, Kashmiri told a journalist: “That was nothing compared to what has already been planned for the future.”
As for Rana’s future, he will most likely discover that if convicted in an American courtroom, planning a terrorist attack is no laughing matter.