Oprah Tickets Come Up During Jury Selection In Tahawwur Hussain Rana Trial

05/16/2011 05:05 pm ET | Updated Jul 16, 2011
  • The Huffington Post/AP

Jury selection began Monday in the case against Chicago businessman Tahawwur Rana, who is accused of helping a former boarding school friend serve as a scout for the militant group that carried out the 2008 rampage that killed more than 160 people in Mumbai, India.

The trial is expected to receive international attention, as federal prosecutors may lay out alleged ties between Lashkar-e-Taiba, the militant group blamed for the attacks, and Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence agency, known as the ISI. The trial comes amid growing suspicion that the ISI was complicit in harboring bin Laden, who was killed by Navy SEALs during a May 2 raid, and could lead to further strains in the already frayed relations between Pakistan and the U.S.

One potential juror, however, wanted to avoid further jury questions on Tuesday, according to the Chicago Tribune. The juror told U.S. District Judge Harry Leinenweber she had a ticket to one of the final tapings of "The Oprah Winfrey Show" Tuesday at the United Center.

A similar situation arose during jury selection in the retrial of former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich. Judge James Zagel ultimately dismissed a woman who had tickets to "The Oprah Winfrey Show" and was worried jury duty would force her to miss it.

The potential juror in the Rana trial, however, might not be so lucky. From the Tribune:

Leinenweber said he would tell the juror she could attend the taping tomorrow and then return Wednesday to the courthouse to be questioned.

Rana, a Canadian national who has lived in Chicago for years, owns a Chicago-based First World Immigration Services, in the city's South Asian enclave. Prosecutors say Rana provided cover for David Coleman Headley, a Pakistani-American with a troubled past who pleaded guilty last year to laying the groundwork for the Mumbai attack by the Pakistani militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba. Rana allegedly let Headley open a First World office in Mumbai and travel as a supposed representative for the agency. He also allegedly helped Headley make travel arrangements as part of the plot against the Danish newspaper that in 2005 printed cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad, which angered many Muslims worldwide.

Rana is charged with providing material support for terrorism in India and Denmark. In court documents, Rana's attorneys have said he believed Headley was working for Pakistani intelligence. Headley also told authorities that he told Rana he "had been asked to perform espionage work for the ISI," according to a court filing.

Rana's attorneys have said part of their defense will be to show that Headley used his connections with the ISI to explain what he was doing. But U.S. District Court Judge Harry Leinenweber has ruled that that proposed defense was "objectively unreasonable."

Prosecutors have declined to comment ahead of the trial. A senior Pakistani intelligence official said he hasn't been following the trial and didn't have comment on it.

Some experts doubt the trial will reveal much, saying federal prosecutors may work hard to keep sensitive information from surfacing, and Headley is not the most credible witness. Headley reached a plea deal with prosecutors in the terrorism case in exchange for avoiding the death penalty and previously had been an informant for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration after a drug conviction.

Details of Headley's possible testimony were revealed last year in an Indian government report detailing what he had allegedly told Indian investigators during questioning in Chicago.

In the report, Headley is cited describing how the ISI was deeply involved in planning the Mumbai attacks and how he reported to a man known only as "Major Iqbal," whom he called his Lashkar "handler." But some experts have suggested Iqbal could be a retired ISI officer, or that he may not even exist. In the indictment, his name is listed as unknown, and he's referred to only under the alias "Major Iqbal."

Rana is actually the seventh name on the indictment, and the only defendant in custody. Among the six others charged in absentia are "Major Iqbal" and Sajid Mir, allegedly another Lashkar-e-Taiba supervisor who also "handled" Headley.

Also indicted is Ilyas Kashmiri, who also is believed by Western intelligence to be al-Qaida's operational chief in Pakistan. During his travels for spying and training, Headley allegedly met with Kashmiri in Pakistan, and Kashmiri gave him instructions on how to carry out the Danish newspaper bombing, which ultimately never occurred.