The LWOT: Mumbai terror trial focuses on Pakistani intelligence role

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Mumbai trial focuses on Pakistani intelligence connection

The trial of Chicago-based Pakistani Tahawwur Hussain Rana for allegedly providing support to the 2008 Mumbai attacks began in earnest yesterday, as opening statements quickly gave way to the testimony of David Coleman Headley, a Pakistani-American originally named Daood Gilani who is the prosecution's star witness and has cooperated with Indian and American authorities since his 2009 arrest (NYTWashington PostAP,WSJReutersAJE). Headley testified in great detail about his role in scouting targets and preparing for the attacks, and described close cooperation between the group that perpetrated the attack, Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), and Pakistan's Inter Services Intelligence Directorate (ISI), which many in the United States suspect of playing a "double game" on terrorism (ReutersGlobe and MailChicago Tribune).

Headley testified that the ISI provided "financial and military support" to LeT and told the jury that an ISI officer named "Major Iqbal" was involved at key steps of the attack planning, that Headley reported both to Iqbal and an LeT handler named Sajid Mir, and that Iqbal and a Pakistani navy "frogman" were intimately involved in choosing targets and the route that the LeT attackers took to reach Mumbai (ABCProPublicaTelegraph,BBC). Headley also described the support allegedly given by Rana, his childhood friend, to the plot, which Headley said included providing cover for him under the auspices of Rana's immigration firm to set up shop in Mumbai and travel freely in and out of India (NYTWSJAP). Rana's lawyer Charles Swift called Headley a "manipulative man" who had taken advantage of his friend, and argued that Headley was not a credible witness (TelegraphBBCAP). 

Headley will continue his testimony today, and was profiled this week by Sebastian Rotella and PBS (APProPublicaPBS). Bonus read: Stephen Tankel, "Lashkar-e-Taiba, Mumbai and the ISI" (FP).

Egyptian named "interim" head of al-Qaeda: Former jihadist

A former commander in the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG) who knew Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan, Noman Benotman, told journalists last week that Egyptian Saif al-Adel, a longtime al-Qaeda commander who is believed to have returned to Pakistan from house arrest in Iran last year, had been named the "interim" leader of al-Qaeda by a council of six to eight senior al-Qaeda figures based along the Afghanistan-Pakistani border (Der SpiegelCNNGuardianReuters).

Information seized from the Abbottabad compound where bin Laden was killed has revealed a continued interest from the terror leader in planning high profile attacks against trains, aircraft and oil tankers, though Reuters reports that intelligence analysts have not found information on any imminent plots (APWSJWSJReuters). The Telegraph reports that information has been discovered linking bin Laden to the planning of an alleged Easter bomb plot in the British city of Manchester, a plot which led to a series of abrupt arrests in 2009 in Britain and the subsequent release of the suspects due to lack of evidence (Telegraph).

U.S. State Department Legal Advisor Harold Koh offered the Obama administration's legal justification for killing bin Laden last week in a post at the blog Opinio Juris, arguing that bin Laden's position as the leader of al-Qaeda made him a legitimate military target under the Authorization of the Use of Military Force (AUMF) passed after the 9/11 attacks (Opinio JurisABC). And in an interview with the BBC last week President Barack Obama said he would order another raid into Pakistan if an al-Qaeda leader were found to be hiding there (BBC). For more on bin Laden's death, sign up for the AfPak Channel Daily Brief (FP).

Pakistani authorities last week announced the arrest of a Yemeni al-Qaeda operative, known as Abu Suhaib al-Makki, in the city of Karachi (McClatchyBBCCNNWSJ,GuardianReuters). Al-Makki was reported to have lived in Pakistan for 10 years, only to be arrested days after bin Laden was killed (Dawn). And the Iraqi army last week announced the arrest of Al-Qaeda in Iraq's (AQI) "military leader," Mikhlif Mohammed Hussein al-Azzawi, known as Abu Radhwan, as well as three other AQI operatives (ReutersAFP).

Afghan Gitmo detainee commits suicide

A 37-year old Guantánamo Bay detainee from Afghanistan with a long history of mental illness was found dead last Thursday after apparently hanging himself with a bedsheet in the prison's yard (Miami HeraldBBCReutersAFPAPMcClatchy). Little information is available about the deceased, known by the name Inayatullah, who was among the last detainees to arrive at the prison after his arrest in 2007, and did not undergo a combatant status review (Miami Herald). His lawyer says his name was Hajji Nassim and that he was a cell phone salesman in Iran near the Pakistani-Afghan border, though the U.S. military says he was an al-Qaeda figure involved in smuggling foreign fighters. His body was repatriated to Afghanistan this past weekend (Miami Herald).

The Supreme Court yesterday refused to hear the appeal of Guantánamo detainee Omar Khadr, who pled guilty last year to killing a U.S. Special Forces soldier in Afghanistan in 2002 when Khadr was 15 (Courthouse NewsLawfare Blog). An Algerian former detainee held for nearly eight years at Guantánamo, Saber Lahmar, announced yesterday that he will sue former President George W. Bush in a French court over his detention (AFP). And British activist and former detainee Moazzem Begg was denied access this weekend to an Air Canada flight from London to Toronto because the flight might have been re-routed to the United States (AFP).

Patriot Act extended

Top congressional leaders last week worked out a deal to extend until June 2015 three key provisions of the Patriot Act, passed in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, and another law, which allow the government to place "roving" wire taps, conduct surveillance on "lone wolf" terrorism suspects not linked to a terrorist group, and seize "any tangible thing" deemed relevant to a terrorism investigation (NYTAFPBloomberg).

Pakistanis accused of terror support to remain in jail 

A Florida judge yesterday refused bail to two Florida imams charged with funneling money to the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), ordering 76-year old Hafiz Khan and his son Izhan Khan to remain in jail until their trial (Miami HeraldReuters). Prosecutors provided more details about their case against the men, as well as that against another son, Irfan Khan, who last week was ordered held without bail in Los Angeles, and three others in Pakistan who are reportedly under house arrest (APAPReutersCNNMiami Herald). The Miami Herald has a lengthy profile of Hafiz and Izhar, and the confusion their arrest has caused in their respective communities (Miami Herald).

A New York grand jury last week indicted Algerian permanent resident Ahmed Ferhani for his alleged role in a plot to attack New York synagogues, while a lawyer for Ferhani's alleged co-conspirator Mohamed Mamdouh agreed to give prosecutors until June 2 to bring his case before a grand jury (APCNNCBS New York). Both men assert their innocence in the plot (in reality an NYPD sting operation), and intend to challenge the strength of the case, whose investigation was handled by local, rather than federal, authorities (WNYCNYDN).

CNN reported this weekend that the U.S. Army may soon announce a court martial for Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, accused of killing 13 in a shooting rampage in November 2009 at Ft. Hood, Texas (CNN). A judge denied a motion in the case of accused Portland bomb plotter Mohamed Osman Mohamud that would have prevented FBI agents from discussing a piece of evidence with each other (The Oregonian). Carlos Bledsoe (also known as Abdulhakim Mujahid Muhammad), who allegedly shot and killed a soldier in front of an Arkansas recruitment station in 2009, wrote a letter to a local judge saying he intended to set up a terrorist cell in the U.S. after being deported from Yemen in 2009 (AP). And a man held after Faisal Shahzad's failed attempt to bomb Times Square last May, Aftab Ali Khan, was ordered deported to his native Pakistan May 22 (AP).

In Washington State, the trial of suspected white supremacist Kevin Harpham for attempting to bomb a Martin Luther King Jr. Day march in Spokane was delayed until August 22 to give the defense more time to prepare (Spokesman-Review). An Ohio couple, Hor and Amera Akl, pled guilty to attempting to send up to $1 million to the Lebanese terrorist organization Hezbollah (AP). Finally, federal authorities have filed charges against an American convert to Islam and co-founder of the radical group Revolution Muslim, Younus Abdullah Mohammad (originally Jesse Curtis Moore) for making threats against the creators of the show "South Park" after the show aired an image purportedly of the Prophet Muhammad in a bear suit (CNN).

Report warns of radicalization in Indonesian jails

A report released last week by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute found that Indonesian jails are an "incubator" of terrorist operations and recruitment, where extremists can preach, mingle freely with others, and have easy access to cell phones and other forms of communication (BBCAFPJakarta GlobeAustralia Broadcasting CorporationSydney Morning Herald). The New York Times last week looked at the rise of Islamic "vigilante groups" in Indonesia, whose violence against minority sects and religions is often ignored by police (NYT). And Indonesian police alleged last week that the group said to be responsible for a deadly suicide attack on a police mosque last month was linked to the hardline cleric Abu Bakir Bashir and the group Jemaah Ansharut Tauhid (Jakarta Globe).

Trials and Tribulations

  •  British authorities have relocated a British-Nigerian man known only as "CD" from London to the Midlands under a control order, after presenting evidence that the man was part of an extremist network in London, had attended a terror training camp in Syria, and had tried to buy firearms after his return (GuardianBBC).
  • A British court has prevented the deportation of a Tunisian man known as "MK" who was convicted on terrorism charges in Tunisia, while he appeals for asylum in the United Kingdom (Telegraph). The Guardian's Vikram Dodd yesterday interviewed a British Muslim man who says he was pressured by British anti-terrorism police to "spy" on other Muslims, and reports that Britain's "stop and search" anti-terror law was 42 times more likely to be employed on an "Asian" than a white person (GuardianGuardian).
  • Diplomatic cables released by the anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks this weekend claimed that donors in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates had given up to $100 million to charities and seminaries in Pakistan allegedly involved in jihadist recruitment efforts, including the recruitment of children (Reuters).
  • A Swedish newspaper this week reported that in 2009 Sweden's police security agency Säpo discovered two suspected American intelligence agents were conducting illegal surveillance of people with possible terrorist links in the country without informing the Swedish government (AFP).
  • The U.S. State Department on May 19 designated the Gaza-based Army of Islam as a Foreign Terrorist Organization (StateWSJ). 



The LWOT: Terrorism trial begins in Chicago; Florida terrorism suspect to plead not guilty

Foreign Policy and the New America Foundation bring you a twice weekly brief on the legal war on terror. You can read it on or get it delivered directly to your inbox -- just sign up here.

Key terror trial begins in Chicago

Jury selection began yesterday in the case of Pakistani-born Chicago man Tahawwur Hussain Rana, accused of providing support to his old school friend David Coleman Headley while the latter scouted targets for the 2008 Mumbai attacks, as well as allegedly helping plot an attack against a Danish newspaper that published cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad in 2005 (AP, WSJ, AFP, Chicago Tribune). The trial will likely to feature testimony from Headley, who pled guilty last year to avoid the death penalty.

Headley has reportedly told American and Indian investigators about extensive links between the terrorist group Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) and Pakistan's Inter Services Intelligence Division (ISI), and the Rana trial is expected to shed light on these long-suspected but never proven connections (AP, AP, WSJ, AFP, NYT, Bloomberg, NPR). For background on the ties between the ISI and LeT, see Stephen Tankel's New America Foundation paper "Lashkar-e-Taiba: Past Operations and Future Prospects" (NAF )

Florida terrorism suspect to plead not guilty

Septuagenarian Florida Imam Hafiz Khan will plead not guilty to charges that he helped funnel up to $50,000 to the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), and was denied bail in a court hearing yesterday (NYT, AFP). Khan and his son Izhar Khan will appear in court for a pre-detention hearing on May 23 -- another son, Irfan, appeared in a Los Angeles court yesterday and was given a bond hearing later this week (Reuters, Dawn, AP, Miami Herald). The three were charged on May 14 (indictment available here) along with three people in Pakistan, including the elder Khan's daughter Amina and 19-year-old grandson Alam Zeb, with conspiring over a three-year period to provide funding for the group and for a school Khan set up in the Swat Valley that is alleged to have recruited boys to fight for the Taliban (CNN, NYT, LAT, AP). Pakistani authorities yesterday reportedly arrested Alam Zeb, who had previously denied the charges to reporters (ET, Reuters).

The case has surprised many congregants at the elder Khan's mosque, who described him as poor and apolitical (Miami Herald). The arrest was notable for the subtle differences from other terrorism cases in the behavior of federal agents during and after the arrest; agents waited until prayer was over to arrest Khan, and authorities informed community leaders of the arrests before they were made public (Miami Herald).

And in New York, doubts are emerging over two arrests last week in an alleged plot to attack synagogues, as anonymous federal law enforcement sources told the AP and WNYC radio that the FBI had doubts about how the NYPD had handled the case against Ahmed Farhani and Mohamed Mamdouh, and questioned how well terrorism charges against the two would fare in court (AP, WNYC). Mamdouh gave a tearful interview at Riker's Island in which he blamed Farhani, a permanent resident from Algeria, for discussing acquiring weapons and attacking synagogues, while Farhani's family asserted that he was innocent (NYDN, Gothamist). And the Wall Street Journal notes Farhani's "lack of religious fervor" and absence of apparent connections to radicals (WSJ).

Panetta letter on "enhanced interrogation" leaked

The Washington Post's Greg Sargent yesterday obtained a letter written by CIA director Leon Panetta to Sen. John McCain on the role "enhanced interrogation" of CIA detainees played in the eventual tracking and killing of Osama bin Laden (Washington Post). He asserted that:

We first learned about the facilitator/courier's nom de guerre from a detainee not in CIA custody in 2002. It is also important to note that some detainees who were subjected to enhanced interrogation techniques attempted to provide false or misleading information about the facilitator/courier...In the end, no detainee in CIA custody revealed the facilitator/courier's full true name or specific whereabouts. This information was discovered through other intelligence means.

The letter's release came on the same day that several Bush administration officials, including former U.S. Attorney General Michael Mukasey and speechwriter Marc Thiessen publicly defended the role harsh methods played in finding bin Laden, with Thiessen stating that 9/11 plotter Khalid Sheikh Muhammad "mocked" his interrogators by reportedly counting off the seconds until they would have to stop waterboarding him (Miami Herald, WSJ).

Reuters reports this weekend on the hazy paper trail indicating that Hassan Ghul, a supposed al-Qaeda faciliatator detained in Iraq in 2004, gave significant information about bin Laden's courier before he was subjected to enhanced interrogation methods (Reuters). Ghul was released by Pakistan in 2007, and is believed to have returned to militancy. For more coverage see Katherine Tiedemann's AfPak Channel Daily Brief here and here.

And the U.S. Supreme Court yesterday, citing the state secrets privilege, rejected the appeal of five men who were attempting to sue a Boeing subsidiary, Jeppesen Dataplan, over the role the latter allegedly played in facilitating the Bush administration's extraordinary rendition program (Bloomberg).

Bomb defused outside of Dublin

The Irish military has defused a small but "viable" pipe bomb on a bus near Dublin hours before the Queen of England's scheduled visit to the city, the first by a British monarch since 1911, after reportedly being tipped off by an informant (NYT, AP, Reuters, CNN, Guardian, Telegraph). The discovery comes one day after British police closed off parts of Central London, including areas near Buckingham Palace, after receiving a bomb threat from suspected dissident Irish Republicans(Washington Post, AP, Telegraph, BBC, Guardian, Reuters). Cars will be banned in Dublin during the Queen's visit, and Northern Irish authorities have detained former Irish Republican Army (IRA) member Marian Price, charging her with encouraging support for the terrorist group (Telegraph, Guardian).

And the British government's independent terrorism reviewer David Anderson said yesterday that six men arrested last September on suspicion that they planned to attack Pope Benedict XVI were not involved in terrorism (BBC, Telegraph).

Trials and Tribulations

  • Deutsche Welle reports that Germany has restricted its intelligence sharing with the United States since a drone strike last October killed a German, referred to as Bünyamin E., in Pakistan's tribal regions (Deutsche Welle).
  • Federal prosecutors are reportedly considering charging Spokane-area man Joseph Brice with providing material support to terrorists, after his arrest last week on charges of constructing an explosive device (Seattle Times). Brice allegedly posted bomb making videos on a jihadist-themed YouTube page, as well as videos of attacks in other countries.
  • A suicide bomber detonated himself near the city headquarters of Kazakhstan's domestic security police this morning in the city of Aktobe, wounding several people (Reuters).
  • French authorities have filed terrorism charges against three Frenchmen and an Indian who allegedly wanted to travel to training camps along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border (AP).
  • Indonesian security forces killed alleged militant commander Sigit Qurdowi and a bodyguard this weekend, after a series of arrests have netted 10 terrorism suspects since last month (Jakarta Globe, AP).
  • The Tunisian army arrested two suspected members of Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), a Libyan and an Algerian, in the country's south on May 15 (Reuters, AFP). The men, the first AQIM members to be arrested in Tunisia, were allegedly in possession of an explosive belt and a homemade bomb, and tried to set off an explosive before being subdued.
  • Algerian president Abdelaziz Bouteflika will reportedly soon release several thousand imprisoned Islamists from jail, reportedly as part of a bid for greater support and to draw to a close another legacy of Algeria's brutal civil war (Reuters).
  • Chechen terrorism suspect Lors Doukayev pleaded not guilty to terror charges in a Danish court May 16, though he did plead guilty to possessing a handgun and a small bomb that he claims he had for self-defense (AP).