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Today, a jury in Chicago hears opening arguments in a trial that could further complicate U.S.-Pakistani relations. The case involves a man accused of helping with the 2008 terrorist attacks in Mumbai, India. The defendant faces life in prison, but the trial will also examine Pakistan's role in the attacks and could reveal something about that country's links to terrorism.

NPR's Dina Temple-Raston reports.

DINA TEMPLE: To understand what's at stake in the Chicago case, you have to travel thousands of miles from Chicago to the Indian city of Mumbai, where three years ago 10 armed men opened fire in train stations and hotels and cafes and killed more than 160 people.

Indian police intercepted telephone conversations between the gunmen and their leaders as the attack was unfolding. Here's a clip of those conversations from the HBO documentary "Terror in Mumbai."

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "TERROR IN MUMBAI")

Unidentified Man: (Foreign language spoken)

TEMPLE: And in that call the handler is saying, don't panic.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "TERROR IN MUMBAI")

Man: (Foreign language spoken)

TEMPLE: For your mission to end successfully, the handler says in that piece of tape, you must be killed.

Precisely who that handler is and who he worked for, that information has been classified up to now. That could be revealed, though, during testimony in a trial that starts today.

The defendant is a Chicago businessman named Tahawwur Rana. Prosecutors say that Rana allowed someone to use his immigration business as a cover. And that someone is a Pakistani-American named David Coleman Headley. Headley pretended to open a branch office in Mumbai, and he used that office as an excuse to scout locations for the Mumbai attack.

That part of the case isn't in dispute. Headley's already pleaded guilty to terrorism charges. The question in this trial is supposed to be about whether Rana knew what Headley was up to. Charles Swift, Rana's defense attorney, says he didn't.

CHARLES SWIFT: Dr. Rana, by everyone's account, really is, whether you're the government or us - and this is a question of degree - either an innocent bystander who simply had the misfortune of knowing a bad guy or helped a bad guy.

TEMPLE: The focus hasn't been on Rana at all. Instead, the main attraction has been on Pakistan's role in the attacks. Headley, who has links to Pakistan's intelligence agency, known as the ISI, is going to testify against Rana. And when he does so, Swift says he's going to provide publicly for the first time details about the run-up to the attack on India.

SWIFT: This case is really the only case that's going to look deeply into the Mumbai conspiracy and into U.S. operations, our own operations there, and ISI's operations in sponsoring some of these terrorist groups.

TEMPLE: And it couldn't come at a more politically charged time - just weeks after the killing of Osama bin Laden in Pakistan. The fact that bin Laden could have been hiding for five years there raised questions about the country's links to terrorism.

CHRISTINE FAIR: It's a big deal in the sense that it's a part of this evolving revelation of things that we already knew.

TEMPLE: Christine Fair is a professor and terrorism expert at Georgetown University.

FAIR: For those in the wake of bin Laden that are sort of out for blood, this is yet another opportunity to bludgeon Pakistan for its various numerous shortcomings in the war on terror.

TEMPLE: In a trial that's expected to last for weeks, the job for defense attorneys is to try to get the focus back on their client and what he actually did - or didn't do - ahead of the Mumbai attacks.

Dina Temple-Raston, NPR News.

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