Cartoon 'Offended'; Charged with planning to bomb Danish paper
Stewart Bell, National Post Published: Wednesday, October 28, 2009
A Canadian arrested in Chicago for allegedly helping plot a terrorist attack against a Danish newspaper told the FBI he was offended by editorial cartoons of Muhammad that the daily had published.
Tahawwur Hussain Rana, a 48-year-old Pakistani-born Canadian, has been charged with supporting terrorism for his role in what the FBI says was a plot against the Jyllands- Posten in Copenhagen.
An indictment unsealed yesterday alleges Mr. Rana conspired with David Headley on the Mickey Mouse Project, an innocuously named terrorist operation meant to strike at the newspaper for "making fun of Islam."
"The criminal complaints unsealed today have exposed a serious plot against overseas targets by two Chicago-based men working with Pakistanibased terrorist organizations," said David Kris, the Assistant Attorney-General for National Security.
A Danish intelligence official, Jakob Scharf, said the plotters had considered attacks involving firearms and explosives, but Mr. Rana's lawyer said his client denied the charge and was looking forward to clearing his name.
The terrorist operation outlined by the FBI runs against the current perception of the Islamist extremist threat. Many recent terrorist plots in the West have involved young extremists inspired by al-Qaeda but unconnected to it. But in this case the suspects are both close to 50 and allegedly worked in concert with established Pakistani terror groups.
Although a Canadian, Mr. Rana lives in Chicago, where he owns First World Immigration Service.
The company also has offices in Toronto and New York. FBI agents raided his halal meat business in Kinsman, Ill., last week.
He is accused of discussing potential targets with Mr. Headley and arranging for him to travel to Denmark to conduct surveillance of the newspaper building. He also filmed the central train station, a synagogue and military barracks.
Denmark has been on the alert since 2005, when Jyllands-Posten published a dozen editorial cartoons of the Muslim prophet Muhammad, one showing a turban as a bomb. The project was meant to stir debate over the tension between free speech and Islam, but deadly riots erupted around the world as Muslims decried the images as blasphemous.
The Danish embassy in Islamabad was attacked in June 2008, and during a recent visit to Canada the 74-year-old cartoonist who drew the most controversial image, Kurt Westergaard, described how he lived under the protection of the Danish secret service.
According to the FBI, in October 2008, Mr. Headley posted a message about the cartoons on a Yahoo group for graduates of a military school in northern Pakistan that both he and Mr. Rana had attended.
"Call me old-fashioned, but I feel disposed toward violence for the offending parties, be they cartoonists from Denmark or Sherry Jones [the author of a novel about Muhammad's wife] or Irshad Manji [the Canadian liberal Muslim writer]," he wrote.
Over the next year, Mr. Headley corresponded with Mr. Rana and members of the terrorist groups Lashkar-e Tayiba and Harakat-ul Jihad Islami about the plot. He visited Copenhagen in January and again in July to conduct reconnaissance, the FBI said.
His cover story during his travels was that he was considering opening a branch of First World Immigration in Denmark and was interested in advertising in the paper, the FBI said. He was on his way to Pakistan
on Oct. 3 when he was arrested while boarding a flight at Chicago's O'Hare airport.
FBI Special Agent Lorenzo Benedict said Mr. Headley, 49, is a U.S. citizen who changed his name from Daood Gilani in 2006 and was trained by Lashkar-e-Tayiba, the group behind last year's Mumbai attacks.
While he claimed to work for Mr. Rana's immigration firm, Mr. Headley appeared to perform little if any work for the business and, although he had no apparent income, he travelled regularly to Pakistan and Europe, the FBI said.
In statements to investigators following his arrest, he admitted ties to Pakistani terror groups and said that while the newspaper building had been the initial target, the operation had been reduced to killing the cartoonist and the culture editor, Flemming Rose.
Mr. Rana was arrested on Oct. 18. He admitted he was aware Mr. Headley was affiliated with Pakistani terrorist groups, the FBI said. He also said he "was offended by the cartoon depictions of the Prophet Mohammad and would not have done business with the newspaper that published them."
Ms. Manji said in an interview yesterday she had been informed in advance that her name had surfaced in the plot but she was not fazed by it and would not be silenced. "I simply will not abdicate our freedoms to people who would use those very freedoms to take them away," she said.
Danish authorities said more arrests were possible.