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Chicago: Tahawwur Rana, an accomplice of Mumbai attack terrorist David Headley, was today sentenced to 14 years in jail followed by five years of supervised release for the "serious crime" of providing material support to Pakistan-based LeT and for backing a plot to strike a Danish newspaper.
The US District Judge Harry D Leinenweber gave his order after hearing from both the government attorney and those of 52-year-old Rana, during which the two argued on the length of imprisonment.
The last minute arguments lasted for more than an hour and half. The Defence had sought a lighter sentence of about nine years citing Rana's poor health while the Prosecution wanted a 30-year jail term.
"Based upon presiding over the trial and reading over the material that has been provided to me, we have on one hand a very intelligent person capable and willing to provide assistance to many many people.
"What is difficult to understand how that kind of person is sucked into a ghastly plot that was proposed to go into the private office of a newspaper. "We find that Rana got involved in this action which would have provided death and injury to a number of people. Fortunately it was stopped prior to being carried out," the judge said.
He added: "It seems to me that people who are determined to carry out terrorist activity really do not care about what is going to happen to them. As long as Rana is in custody he is personally deterred from any personal such activity.
"Providing a long sentence would make sure that Rana does not get involved in any kind of terrorist activity in the future".
The whole idea that Headley was sent to Copenhagen to place an ad in a newspaper when you can do it simply over computer from here, shows that "the crime is serious", the Judge said noting Rana assisted Headley in going to Denmark for such a plot.
The Assistant US Attorney government attorney Daniel Collins said that "terrorism enhancement" be taken into consideration for sentencing and pleaded for "severe sentence" for Rana.
Peter Blegan, Rana's attorney, argued that it is not applicable and claimed that the argument made by the government attorney is factually inaccurate. "The court finds that terrorism enhancement does not apply under the current terrorism act," judge Leinenweber said.
"This seems clear to me that the planned attack was on a private company on a private property...we had a plot to invade a private newspaper and a private property... This certainly was a dastardly plot," he noted.
Rana was brought to the court in an orange jump suit several minutes after scheduled sentencing hearing at 10 AM local Chicago time. Gray haired Rana appeared calm, but weak. His wife could not be present as she was denied entry into the US from Canada by immigration authorities, Blegan said.
One of his sons was also not present as he was in college. However, a number of his other family members were present during the sentencing hearing, which was jam packed with a battery of reporters representing both the Indian and US media.
Judge Leinenweber said he has read and reviewed the positions of both the government and those of the Rana attorney. He said he has also received letters of recommendations in favor of Rana from his family, friends and other members of the society.
On the top of the hearing, Rana told the judge that he has received and read the pre-sentencing report. Pakistan-born, Rana is a naturalised 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.
Meanwhile, Collins said during the hearing today that "He (Rana) wanted to give highest military honors and medals tho those who conducted these attacks. Lashkar (LeT)
has a long history of carrying out attacks against the Indian government. He called them freedom fighters. He was passing compliments to them".
"We noted with evidence, and reported the defendant (Rana) laughed at the discussion of terrorist attacks. He knew that they had blood in their hands. That speaks volumes about who the defendant is and that is the man who is standing before us.
"We have admitted reporting showing you who truly this man is. He had direct contact with Headley as well as Major Pasha. We call for significant sentencing in this case," Collins said, urging the court that Rana be handed down a total of 30 years in prison.
However, Rana's attorney Patrick W Blegan urged the court for lighter sentencing, citing his client's poor health condition and described him as kind and compassionate person.
Referring to the heart attack Rana suffered in June 2012 and the hospitalization thereafter, Blegan said Rana was in a very poor health and requested the judge to take it into account while sentencing.
Blegan also urged the court to consider the fact that he spent 13 months in solitary confinement. "He is not a future danger. He got sucked into this by Headley. But there is no risk that he is going to do this again," he said. "This is a material support offence and not a direct involvement offence," he added.
The sentencing comes more than 18 months after a federal grand jury in June, 2011 had convicted Rana on two counts of participating in conspiracy involving a terrorism plot against a Danish newspaper and providing material support to Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), a Pak-based terrorist outfit that carried out Mumbai terrorist attack.
Rana, who was originally arrested in 2009 for his alleged involvement in the 26/11 Mumbai attacks, was acquitted of that charge by the federal grand jury. However, Indian investigators have accused him of being involved in the Mumbai attacks that killed 166 people including six Americans and are seeking to question him for the second time.
Among other six indicted by the FBI, include Ilyas Kashmiri, influential terrorist organisation leader in Pakistan who is in regular contact with of al Qaeda 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.
Reacting to the verdict, the Prosecution said they were "pleased".