2 men are charged by U.S. with plotting terrorism attack
Wednesday, October 28, 2009
Federal prosecutors unsealed charges Tuesday alleging that two men participated in a terrorism plot that took them from Chicago to Denmark. The case is the latest example of U.S. citizens accused of seeking to travel overseas to carry out violent extremist attacks.
Using e-mail messages, recorded conversations and surveillance, the FBI's Joint Terrorism Task Force traced the movements of David C. Headley from his apartment in Chicago to Pakistan, where he met at least once with a top al-Qaeda figure to plan foreign operations, according to court papers.
Headley has been in custody since he tried to leave Chicago's O'Hare International Airport three weeks ago, but authorities said they had delayed public notice of the conspiracy charges against him so they could conduct "further investigative activity."
Patrick J. Fitzgerald, U.S. attorney in Chicago, assured the public Tuesday that there was no "imminent danger" to the community. The arrests came after a series of unrelated terrorism charges against American citizens in Boston, New York, Colorado, North Carolina, Texas and central Illinois.
Headley, 49, legally changed his name from Daood Gilani three years ago to avoid suspicion when he traveled, FBI special agent Lorenzo Benedict wrote in a sworn statement. In the past nine months alone, Headley journeyed twice to Denmark, where he posed as a businessman interested in placing ads in a newspaper that in 2005 published cartoons making fun of the prophet Muhammad, the statement said.
Authorities think that Headley was taking steps to carry out terrorist strikes as part of a plan he called "the Mickey Mouse Project," the court documents say. The FBI affidavit described contacts between Headley and two unnamed operatives of Lashkar-i-Taiba, a Pakistani group with ties to al-Qaeda, and with Ilyas Kashmiri, the operational chief of another Pakistani militant organization who survived a U.S. drone attack this year.
The FBI document cited Headley's posting on an electronic message board last year. "I feel disposed towards violence for the offending parties" at the Denmark newspaper who, he is alleged to have said, were "making fun of Islam" by depicting Muhammad in unflattering cartoons.
David S. Kris, assistant attorney general for the Justice Department's national security division, and Robert D. Grant, special agent in charge of the FBI's Chicago office, said they had worked closely with foreign partners in the case to share information and disrupt possible threats. Leaders in Denmark held a news conference Tuesday to discuss the case.
U.S. prosecutors also charged another Chicago man, Tahawwur Hussain Rana, 48, with conspiring to provide support to terrorists, accusing him of helping to plan and conceal the purpose of Headley's travels. Headley did not work regularly or have a ready source of income, authorities said, but he told others that he was employed by First World Immigration Services, owned by Rana.
Patrick W. Blegen, an attorney for Rana, said in a telephone interview Tuesday that his client is a "well-respected businessman in the Chicagoland community. He adamantly denies the charges and eagerly awaits his opportunity to contest them in court, and to clear his name and his family's name."
John Theis, an attorney for Headley, declined to comment.
Headley was born in the United States but relocated to Pakistan as a youth. Rana was born in Pakistan but eventually became a Canadian citizen who lived in the Chicago area. Both men allegedly attended a military school in the Pakistani town of Hasn Abdal, according to postings on a Yahoo message group, the FBI's Benedict wrote in his sworn statement.
After his arrest Oct. 3, Headley told the FBI that he had personally met with Kashmiri, identified as the fourth most wanted man by the Pakistani Ministry of the Interior, and that he had received training from another group designated as a terrorist outfit, according to court filings.
When agents searched Headley's checked bags, they uncovered a memory stick that contained 10 short videos of the entrance to the newspaper office in Copenhagen, military sites and the city's central train station.