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A terrorism trial set to begin in Chicago could further inflame tensions between the U.S. and Pakistan. Jury selection begins Monday in the case of a man who has been implicated in the 2008 terrorist attacks in Mumbai, India.
But in this case, the defendant's guilt or innocence is almost an afterthought. The bigger question is what the trial might reveal about Pakistan's role in planning the attacks. NPR's Dina Temple-Raston explains.
DINA TEMPLE: The FBI arrested Tahawwur Rana two years ago. He was accused of conspiring with others to plot what's become known as India's 9/11 - the 2008 Mumbai attacks.
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After a nearly 16 hour standoff Indian commandos are gaining ground in their effort to rescue hundreds of hostages, but their work continues outside the Taj and Oberoi hotels.
TEMPLE: Ten Pakistani gunmen, wielding semi-automatic weapons and grenades, held the city of Mumbai at bay for three days. More than 160 people died, including six Americans.
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TEMPLE: This case in Chicago is about what happened leading up to that attack. Prosecutors say that Rana allowed someone to use his immigration business as a cover. Pakistani-American David Coleman Headley pretended to be a businessman working for Rana so he could to do reconnaissance in India ahead of the attacks.
That part of the story isn't in dispute. Headley's already pleaded guilty to those charges. What makes this case so sensitive now, just weeks after Osama bin Laden was found hiding in a Pakistani garrison town, is that there will be a public trial tying Pakistan to terrorist groups.
JUAN ZARATE: I can't remember a case, in terms of either its substance or timing, that has such grave geopolitical impact, potentially.
TEMPLE: That's Juan Zarate, a terrorism expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. He says that while Rana may be sitting at the defense table, he isn't the only one on trial.
ZARATE: In a very real way, you have the Pakistani intelligence services, and perhaps military, on trial here for its potential complicity in the wake of all the questions that have arisen about potential Pakistani complicity in harboring bin Laden. This is a volatile mix in a volatile time.
TEMPLE: The prosecution's star witness is David Headley. He's expected to provide an inside account of the planning for the Mumbai attack and Pakistan's role. Prosecutors say he's going to provide names, and dates and details of phone calls. And that, people close to the case say, will implicate Pakistan's spy agency, a group known as the ISI.
Charles Swift is Rana's defense attorney.
CHARLES SWIFT: I think people will be left wondering why has the United States not looked closer.
TEMPLE: At the ISI?
SWIFT: And at everything that's been going on in Pakistan.
TEMPLE: Here's what's been going on lately. A member of the ISI was indicted as part of the Rana case late last month, along with three members of a terrorist group operating in Pakistan. There was no press release, no press conference, and the story got scant coverage in the US. But the Indian press went wild.
ISI: For the first time America has confirmed what India has been saying all along. That the 10 men who came onto Mumbai shores and unleashed terror on 26th November 2008 were not acting alone, that they were trained and tutored by the ISI. That the entire operation was monitored directly from Islamabad. We knew it.
TEMPLE: Charles Swift, the defense lawyer, says he expects the courtroom will be filled with Indian reporters. And now, in the wake of the bin Laden raid, the U.S. media will be there too. All that attention might explain something prosecutors have just done.
NPR has learned that a couple of days ago, they asked for a special hearing. They want the judge to let them keep some evidence classified, rather than air it publicly. That's an unusual maneuver this late in the case. Prosecutors may have had some second thoughts about what they want to reveal in court.
Dina Temple-Raston, NPR News.
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