Prosecutors in Chicago want a federal judge to impose the maximum sentence on a man convicted of conspiring to support a ghastly terrorist plot against a Danish newspaper.
Tahawwur Rana faces a maximum 15 years in prison when sentenced Thursday, and another 15 years for providing material support to the Pakistani terrorist group Lashkar-e-Tayyiba. Prosecutors say those sentences should be served consecutively – adding up to 30 years – rather than concurrently, because the conspirators sought "murder on a grand, horrific scale."
They plotted to attack the Danish newspaper Jyllands Posten in retaliation for its 2005 publication of cartoons depicting Islam's prophet Mohammad. "The plan was to behead innocent employees of the newspaper, and throw their heads on to the street below so as to maximize the attention to and violence of this terrorist attack," a prosecution sentencing memo filed Monday said.
But defense attorneys say Rana's activities paled in comparison to co-conspirators' and resulted in no actual death or injury. David Coleman Headley, who testified for the government, actually conducted surveillance for the plot and communicated with terrorists in Pakistan. Headley also traveled from Chicago to scout targets for Lashkar in the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attacks that killed 164 people. He has pleaded guilty and is scheduled to be sentenced next Thursday.
Rana and Headley are lifelong friends. Defense attorneys say that friendship motivated Rana to act more than any bloodlust. "Rana is quite simply not a 'terrorist,' not a 'jihadist' and has not imposed on his family or friends the particular brand of hatred that Headley spread, or attempted to spread, to all of those around him," they wrote.
They ask for sentence between seven and nine years. Rana, 52, is in poor health, they wrote, and a sentence much longer than that could amount to life in prison.
But prosecutors counter that Rana agreed to join the conspiracy with full knowledge of Headley's role in the Mumbai attack, something Rana praised. So when he agreed to help Headley plot another attack in Denmark, he knew what Headley was capable of doing.
"A substantial sentence is necessary to deter individuals, like the defendant, from believing that simply because they do not pick up a gun or attend a training camp, they do not facilitate terrorism," prosecutors wrote.