(MCT) — CHICAGO—Throughout Thursday’s sentencing, Tahawwur Rana’s children appeared nervous, his college son bouncing his leg rapidly and his daughter, a high schooler, leaning forward with her hands clasped tightly.
After all, their father, a former doctor and businessman who was convicted in one of Chicago’s most significant terrorism cases, now faced up to the 30 years in prison for aiding and abetting a plot to slay and behead Danish newspaper staffers because of cartoons it published of the Prophet Muhammad. Rana also had been convicted of providing support to Lashkar-e-Taiba, a deadly Pakistani terrorist organization.
But at the end of the 90-minute hearing, the brother and sister left the crowded courtroom appearing much relieved—their faces visibly softened—after U.S. District Judge Harry Leinenweber sentenced Rana to 14 years in prison, a little less than half of the maximum.
After court, Rana’s attorneys expressed satisfaction with the sentence in light of the vigorous arguments from federal prosecutors that Rana, 52, serve the full 30-year term.
“I thought we had the law on our side, frankly,” said Rana’s attorney, Patrick Blegen. “But obviously it’s a scary proposition when the government asks for such a lengthy sentence. And his family was very concerned.”
Rana’s trial drew international media attention because he was also charged with supporting Lashkar’s chilling terrorist attacks in 2008 that killed more than 160 people in Mumbai, India’s largest city. Rana, however, was acquitted of those more serious charges.
Rana owned the First World Management meat packing plant in Kinsman, Ill. The facility was raided by the FBI on Oct. 18, 2009. Rana was arrested later at his home on federal terrorism charges.
David Coleman Headley, Rana’s childhood friend who pleaded guilty in the Danish and Mumbai attacks, was the government’s star witness at the three-week trial. Headley’s testimony about the inner workings of Lashkar provided a rare insight into an international terrorist network. He faces up to life in prison when he is sentenced next week.
At trial, evidence showed that Rana supported the Danish plot by letting Headley pose as an employee of Rana’s Far North Side immigration business while Headley scouted the Jyllands-Posten newspaper in Copenhagen in advance of the attack. The plot was never carried out.
Rana, a Pakistani native, emigrated to the United States from Canada. He worked as a doctor before settling into Chicago, where he set up several businesses and raised three children with his wife. She did not attend Thursday’s sentencing because immigration officials stopped her earlier this month when she tried to re-enter the U.S. after a family trip to Canada, according to Rana’s lawyers.
At the hearing, the defense reiterated its position at trial that Rana had been duped into the plot by a more conniving Headley.
But the sentencing also turned on whether Rana’s plotting constituted an act of terror against the Danish government. That would have required a stiffer penalty under federal sentencing guidelines.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Daniel Collins argued for the so-called terror enhancement, saying that in statements to authorities after his arrest, Rana admitted supporting Lashkar as well as knowing that the terror group had targeted India in the Mumbai attack.
As for the other scheme, Collins said the plotters hoped to draw the Danish forces into a “fight to the death” after storming the newspaper and planned to make “martyr videos.”
“It was not just the newspaper,” Collins told the judge. “It was much broader.”
But Rana’s attorney strongly disagreed, saying evidence at trial showed that Rana wanted to punish only the staff of the newspaper for cartoons that had been deemed offensive to Muslims.
Leinenweber ultimately rejected the government’s argument and lowered the maximum faced by Rana to 14 years under the federal sentencing guidelines, leading Collins to make one further attempt at convincing the judge to sentence Rana to the maximum 30 years in prison.
“Defendants who want to think they can avoid detection by sitting at a safe distance need to understand there will be significant penalties when they are caught,” the prosecutor said.
Blegen argued for mercy by insisting that Rana’s crimes were an aberration for a man who has spent most of his life helping others and raising children who are all in school with plans to contribute to society — a sharp contrast to Headley, who testified at trial about teaching military drills to his young child at city parks.
In the end Leinenweber noted Rana’s seemingly contrasting personalities — an intelligent family man convicted in a “dastardly” plot to behead a newspaper staff — and settled on 14 years in prison.
“This is about as serious as it gets,” the judge said. “It only would have been more serious if it had been carried out.”