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Two Chicago men charged in terrorist plot

Their planned targets included the Danish newspaper that caused a firestorm with cartoons of Muhammad, federal officials say, but there was 'no imminent danger.'

October 28, 2009|Jeff Coen and Stacy St. Clair

CHICAGO — Federal authorities on Tuesday charged two Chicago men with plotting terrorist attacks against targets in Western Europe, including the "facilities and employees" of a Danish newspaper that printed cartoons of the prophet Muhammad that sparked riots in the Muslim world.

David Coleman Headley, 49, a U.S. citizen born in Pakistan, was charged with conspiracy to commit terrorist acts. Tahawwur Hussain Rana, a 48-year-old Canadian citizen also from Pakistan, was accused of supporting him.

Both men remain in federal custody, officials said.

The plan -- an Al Qaeda-blessed operation code-named "the Mickey Mouse Project" -- was interrupted before it could be carried out, U.S. officials said, adding that there was "no imminent danger."

Headley traveled to Denmark twice this year to conduct surveillance missions on the Copenhagen and Aarhus offices of Denmark's largest newspaper, Jyllands-Posten, prosecutors said in criminal complaints unsealed in U.S. district court. During at least one of the trips, Headley allegedly claimed to be a consultant for a Chicago business, owned by Rana, called First World Immigration Services.

Federal authorities detailed their case against the two men in documents that included e-mail and telephone traffic about the alleged plot to attack the newspaper. While making his plans, prosecutors said, Headley stayed in contact with two Pakistani terrorist groups, including one with links to Al Qaeda.

Jakob Scharf, head of the Danish Security and Intelligence Service, described the alleged plan as serious but not imminent.

Drawing on Headley's "very extensive contacts with leading militant extremists in Pakistan," Scharf said, the accused plotters considered many options, including using handguns and explosives to carry out their operation.

Scharf did not rule out the possibility of more arrests.

FBI agents arrested Headley on Oct. 3 at O'Hare International Airport. He had videotapes of Copenhagen and the newspaper offices in his luggage.

Once in custody, authorities said, Headley admitted to receiving training from the militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba and said he had worked on planning the Denmark operation. Robert Seeder, Headley's lawyer, declined to comment Tuesday.

On Oct. 18, dozens of FBI agents from the Joint Terrorism Task Force and the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement raided a meat-processing plant owned by Rana that specializes in Islamic foods. He was arrested that day at his Chicago home.

Lawyer Patrick Blegen said Rana denied having helped Headley arrange his overseas trips or discussing potential targets for attack.

"Mr. Rana is a well-respected businessman," Blegen said. "He adamantly denies the charges and eagerly awaits his opportunity to contest them in court and to clear his and his family's name."

Authorities said Headley sought to either attack the Jyllands-Posten office or launch a more focused attempt to kill cultural editor Kurt Westergaard, who drew the bomb cartoon.

Drawings depicting Muhammad with a lit bomb for a turban touched off violent riots after being published in 2005.

Authorities said they think Headley and Rana posted messages on an Internet board for graduates of a Pakistani military prep school they once attended. In a posting last year, Headley allegedly said that he remained angry about the cartoons.

"I feel disposed towards violence for the offending parties," he wrote.

During one of his visits to Denmark, officials said, Headley posed as an international businessman who wanted to place ads in Jyllands-Posten.

But Editor Jorn Mikkelsen has said that no one at the paper remembers meeting Headley and that the staff was looking through files for any record of the interaction.

Danish authorities have increased patrols around the newspaper's office.

Mikkelsen said that his newsroom had been worried about safety since the controversial cartoons were published, and that the detailed plot outlined in the court documents rattled the staff.

"It's scary, of course. We're kind of shocked," he said. "We have lived with this for four years, but this is a degree extra."

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jcoen@tribune.com

sstclair@tribune.com

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