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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

Washington and Ottawa have discarded Bharat’s national security concerns by not extraditing terrorists, David Coleman Headley & Tahawwur Rana

Rahul Pawa

Bharat has come under scrutiny of Western powers especially United States and Canada along with routine rhetorical accusations from Pakistani military officials on New Delhi’s involvement in elimination of terrorists on foreign shores.

This leads us to a critical question. While both Washington and Ottawa take an aggressive stance on alleged Indian clandestine operations, are they committed to extraditing American and Canadian terrorists like David Coleman Headley and Tahawwur Rana? Or is there a deeper disregard for Bharat’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 Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) crossed Arabian Sea to unleash terror on Mumbai, Bharat’s financial capital.

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 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 Mumbai targets, played a pivotal role in planning and execution of the attacks. He made multiple trips to Mumbai and provided detailed videos and sketches of the locations to attackers.

Rana, an old friend of Headley from their days in 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 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 U.S. authorities providing intelligence and testimony that significantly advanced the investigation including key tip offs regarding Rana. In January 2013, Headley 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, terrorist group responsible for Mumbai attacks and for supporting the plot against Danish newspaper. However, strikingly, he was acquitted of direct involvement in Mumbai attacks. Rana was sentenced to 14 years in prison in January 2013.

For over 11 years, Bharat diligently pursued extradition of David Headley and Tahawwur Rana from US under India-U.S. Extradition Treaty of 1997seeking justice for their roles in 26 / 11 Mumbai terrorist attacks. The extradition request for Headley was sent on December 7, 2012. Headley’s cooperation with U.S. authorities and his plea agreement which precluded his extradition to India, Pakistan, or Denmark,

Bharat remains steadfast in its efforts to hold him accountable under her own laws where the crime was abetted, planned and committed. The plea agreement spared Headley from death penalty and barred his extradition. It has been a point of contention with Indian authorities which feels that US soft-pedaled and did not cooperate 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 U.S. 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. Secretary of State seems to have been party to this plea agreement thereby denying extradition of Headley.

Bharat has been pursuing extradition of Tahawwur Rana. Following his conviction in US, New Delhi requested his extradition along with evidence on August 13, 2020. On May 16, 2023, a US court concluded that Rana was extraditable for offenses related to Mumbai attacks and certified this finding to US Secretary of State. In May, Rana had filed a writ of habeas corpus, challenging the court order that agreed with US government’s request for his extradition to India.

On August 2, 2023, Judge Dale S. Fischer of US District Court in 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.

US and Canada played hardball on both these key extraditions that were to be tried for waging a war against Bharat’s sovereignty. On the other hand, the two countries were working in tandem to corner Bharat on the killing of Hardeep Singh Nijjar.  Nijjar is a Khalistani terrorist trained by Pakistan’s notorious Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and funded to carry out terrorist activities in India and posed significant threats.

Similarly, Gurpatwant Singh Pannun, face of proscribed entity, Sikhs for Justice (SFJ), is another example. SFJ has been declared an unlawful association under Sub-Section (1) and (3) of Section 3 of 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. Such entities, along with dozens of other ISI and CPC fronts, operate with impunity in Canada and US seamlessly.

While India steadfastly adheres to legal methods and zero-tolerance to terrorism, US and Canada share equal moral responsibility. Failure to act against these “separatists” risks facing terrorism similar to Kanishka bombings and 9 / 11 attacks executed by Pakistan-trained terrorists in the West.

Legal and diplomatic challenges notwithstanding, India continues to press for accountability, emphasizing the importance of global solidarity in addressing the scourge of terrorism. US handling of Headley and Rana cases raises concerns about its commitment to justice and human rights. If US Secretary of State so chooses, administration can extradite 26 / 11 accused and David Headley accomplice Tahawwur Rana to India. This would have demonstrated strong stance against West-based terrorist groups.

However, persistent delays in extraditing these key terrorists involved in the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks coupled with soft approach toward India’s security challenges suggest a dismissive attitude towards 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 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, US must start taking the extradition of Rana and Headley seriously. The delay in their extradition not only impedes justice for the victims but disregards India’s national security concerns. Such neglect is not conducive to a friendship that has stood test of time and is preparing for future challenges.

It risks undermining the mutual trust and cooperation that form the bedrock of U.S.-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).

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