David Headley saves his own life in a Chicago courtroom

Liz Mermin writes:

The United States District Court of the Northern District of Illinois is an enormous glass cube of a building that occupies an entire block in downtown Chicago. When I arrive there on a cold and wet afternoon in the middle of May, the lobby is scattered with bomb-sniffing dogs and dozens of US Marshals. A sign outside the building noting “heightened security levels” suggests this is no ordinary state of affairs, even though America seems these days to be in a perpetual state of heightened security. But in this case a little paranoia could be forgiven: the trial getting underway is one of the most significant terrorism cases to have taken place in the US.

The defendant, a 50-year-old Pakistani-Canadian businessman and Chicago resident named Tahawwur Hussein Rana, is accused of the uniquely American crime of “providing material support to terrorism” in three instances: to the 26 November 2008 attack on Mumbai; to a plot against Jyllands-Posten, the Copenhagen newspaper that published cartoons of the Prophet Muhammed in 2005; and to the Pakistani terrorist outfit Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT). He is being tried in America, rather than India or Denmark, in part because of the six Americans killed in the Mumbai attacks.

But the trial—which promises to linger in great detail on the workings of LeT and its relationship with Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), as well as the involvement of al Qaeda in the Danish plot—doesn’t seem to be attracting much local attention. Judging from the headlines, Chicagoans are far more interested in the corruption trial of former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich, the taping of Oprah Winfrey’s final talk show, and the predictions of an octogenarian Christian evangelical that the world will end on 21 May.

Even among the few reporters who have been closely following the case, no one really cares much about Rana. The star attraction will be David Coleman Headley—formerly Daood Gilani—who is expected to take the stand as a key witness against Rana, his oldest and best friend. A handful of Headley-obsessed journalists are converging on the courthouse for a chance to hear the man whose bizarre life they have been investigating for more than a year.

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