Time for US to take extradition of terrorists Rana and Headley to India seriously

Time for US to take extradition of terrorists Rana and Headley to India seriously. — IANS

New Delhi, June 5 (IANS) While both Washington and Ottawa take an aggressive stance on alleged Indian clandestine operations, are they equally committed to extraditing American and Canadian terrorists like David Coleman Headley and Tahawwur Rana? Or is there a deeper disregard for India’s legitimate national security and criminal justice concerns?

India has recently become the focus of intense Western scrutiny, facing allegations from the United States and Canada, along with routine rhetorical accusations from Pakistani military officials, regarding its supposed involvement in eliminating terrorists in North America and Pakistan.

Raising a critical question: While both Washington and Ottawa take an aggressive stance on alleged Indian clandestine operations, are they equally committed to extraditing American and Canadian terrorists like David Coleman Headley and Tahawwur Rana?

Or is there a deeper disregard for India’s legitimate national security and criminal justice concerns?

Fifteen years have passed since the devastating 26/11 Mumbai attacks, a series of coordinated terrorist assaults that shocked the world. Meticulously orchestrated by Pakistan, ten terrorists from the Pakistan-based group Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) crossed the Arabian Sea to unleash terror on Mumbai.

The 60-hour siege that followed claimed 166 lives and injured over 300 civilians and security personnel, leaving an indelible mark on the city’s history.

Central to the reconnaissance efforts leading to these vicious terrorist attacks were David Coleman Headley a.k.a Daood Sayed Gilani, an American citizen of Pakistani origin, and Tahawwur Rana, a former Pakistan Army Captain and Canadian citizen.

Headley, who conducted extensive surveillance and gathered crucial information on the targets, played a pivotal role in the planning and execution of the attacks. He made multiple trips to Mumbai and provided detailed videos and sketches of the locations to the attackers. Rana, an old friend of Headley from their days in a Pakistani military school, who also visited Mumbai facilitated these reconnaissance missions by providing Headley cover through his Chicago based immigration business.

Following the devastating attacks, Headley and Rana were both apprehended and prosecuted for their roles in planning and executing these terrorist activities, as well as for conducting reconnaissance of a Danish daily in Denmark.

American terrorist Headley was arrested by the US Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) in Chicago on October 3, 2009. In March 2010, he pleaded guilty to being terror trained in Pakistan, 12 terrorism-related charges, including aiding and abetting the 26/11 attacks which included six American victims.

Headley cooperated with US authorities, providing intelligence and testimony that significantly advanced the investigation including key tip offs regarding Rana.

In January 2013, he was sentenced to 35 years in prison. Around the same time, Canadian terrorist Rana, was arrested on October 18, 2009.

He was charged with providing material support to terrorist plots, including the Mumbai terrorist attacks and a planned terror attack on Jyllands-Posten in Denmark.

In June 2011, Rana was convicted of conspiracy to provide material support to Lashkar-e-Taiba, the terrorist group responsible for the Mumbai attacks, and for supporting the plot against the Danish newspaper. However, strikingly, he was acquitted of direct involvement in the Mumbai attacks. Rana was sentenced to 14 years in prison in January 2013.

For over 11 years, India has been diligently pursuing the extradition of David Headley and Tahawwur Rana from the United States under the India-US Extradition Treaty of 1997, seeking justice for their roles in the 26/11 Mumbai terrorist attacks.

The extradition request for Headley was sent on December 7, 2012.

Headley’s cooperation with US authorities and his plea agreement, which precluded his extradition to India, Pakistan, or Denmark, India remains steadfast in its efforts to hold him accountable under Indian law.

The plea agreement, which spared Headley from the death penalty and barred his extradition, has been a point of contention, with Indian authorities further feeling that the US has not fully cooperated in providing access to Headley.

Although officials from India’s National Intelligence Agency (NIA) were able to interrogate Headley in Chicago in June 2010, they could do so only in the presence of FBI agents, leading to concerns that the information obtained was restricted. Importantly, while the plea agreement limits Headley’s extradition for the crimes he confessed to, the US Secretary of State holds the authority to potentially extradite Headley for offenses other than those related to the 26/11 attacks or if he violates the plea agreement.

The Secretary of State’s cooperation is crucial in this matter.

Similarly, India has been pursuing the extradition of Tahawwur Rana.

Following his conviction in the US, India requested his extradition, submitting a formal request with accompanying evidence on August 13, 2020.

On May 16, 2023, a US court concluded that Rana was extraditable for the offenses related to the Mumbai attacks and certified this finding to the US Secretary of State.

In May, Rana had filed a writ of habeas corpus, challenging the court order that agreed with the US government’s request for his extradition to India.

On August 2, 2023, Judge Dale S. Fischer of the United States District Court, Central District of California, denied Rana’s petition for a writ of habeas corpus, paving the way for US Secretary of State to issue a certification for his extradition to India.

However, Rana has filed an appeal against the order and sought a stay on his extradition to India until his appeal in the Ninth Circuit Court is heard, leading to his extradition being stayed on August 18, 2023. His extradition remains pending.

Moreover, terrorists like Hardeep Singh Nijjar, trained by Pakistan’s notorious Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and funded to carry out terrorist activities in India, pose significant threats.

Similarly, Gurpatwant Singh Pannun, the face of the proscribed entity Sikhs for Justice (SFJ), is another example.

The SFJ has been declared an unlawful association under Sub-Section (1) and (3) of Section 3 of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967.

Numerous scholars of terrorism and international relations, as well as the Indian government, recognise both Nijjar and Pannun as terrorists.

They frequently expose the so-called “Khalistani Movement” as a front for Pakistan, recently furthered by Communist Party of China (CPC) to engage in anti-India activities in the West. Despite this, such entities, along with dozens of other ISI and CPC fronts, operate with impunity in Canada and the United States.

While India steadfastly adheres to legal methods and has made monumental strides in a zero-tolerance approach to terrorism, the United States and Canada share an equal moral responsibility.

Failure to act against these so-called “separatists” risks facing terrorism similar to the Kanishka bombings and the 9/11 attacks, executed by Pakistan-trained terrorists in the West.

Despite the legal and diplomatic challenges, India continues to press for accountability, emphasizing the importance of global solidarity in addressing the scourge of terrorism.

The US handling of the Headley and Rana cases raises significant concerns about its commitment to justice and human rights.

If the US Secretary of State so chooses, the administration can extradite 26/11 accused and David Headley accomplice, Tahawwur Rana, to India, demonstrating a strong stance against West-based terrorist groups. However, persistent delays in extraditing these key figures involved in the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks, coupled with a soft approach toward India’s security challenges, suggest a dismissive attitude toward India’s concerns.

Such oversight hampers a relationship that should be rooted in equality, respect, and a reciprocal commitment to eradicating global terrorism. Canada is widely believed to need significant improvements in shaping its society.

This includes addressing issues such as the controversial acceptance of Pakistani war criminals as immigrants, navigating polarising local politics, or taking a strong stand to uphold its professed values of freedom, justice, and liberty.

Meanwhile, the US must start taking the extradition of Rana and Headley seriously. The delay in their extradition not only impedes justice for the victims but also disregards India’s national security concerns.

Such neglect is not conducive to a friendship that has stood the test of time and is preparing for future challenges.

It risks undermining the mutual trust and cooperation that form the bedrock of US-India and Canada-India relations.

(The author is an international criminal lawyer and director of research at New Delhi-based think-tank Centre for Integrated and Holistic Studies – CIHS).

- Advertisement -