By seeking a prison term of 30 years for Tahawwur Hussain Rana, US federal prosecutors are probably foreshadowing a similar length of imprisonment, if not longer, for David Coleman Headley, a key plotter behind the Mumbai terrorist attacks of November 26, 2008.
Although it will be up to District Judge Harry Leinenweber to decide the quantum of Rana's sentence, the fact that the prosecution is asking for 30 years could be regarded as a benchmark for Headley's sentence scheduled for Jan 24.
Having pleaded guilty to all the 14 counts of his involvement in the plotting of the Mumbai attacks, which resulted in the deaths of six US citizens, as well as the abortive Denmark plan, it seems logical that at the very least his sentence will match Rana's, if not much longer.
Rana, a childhood friend of Headley's who will be handed a sentence on Jan 17 by a court here, was convicted in June 2011 of two counts of conspiring to provide material support to a plot to commit murder overseas from October 2008 to October 2009 and providing material support to the foreign terrorist organisation Lashkar e-Tayyiba from late 2005 to October 2009. The plot could have led to murder on what is described by the prosecutors a "grand, horrific scale."
That plot, also being initiated by Headley, involved storming the offices of the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten in the heart of Copenhagen and beheading its employees and throwing their heads on to the street. The newspaper had earlier published cartoons of Prophet Mohammed offensive to Muslims.
The prosecution had produced a recording where Rana was heard saying the Denmark plan was "good" and "this would be a huge event in the media."
In pressing for a 30-year sentence for Rana, the prosecutors made several references to the Mumbai attacks for which too he was accused of providing material support to Headley but acquitted. This was not the first time that Rana applauded mass murder.
After approximately 164 men, women and children were mercilessly slaughtered by the foreign terrorist organization Lashkar e Tayyiba, Rana simply stated that the victims "deserved it". Rana praised the attacks, stating in a recorded conversation that they struck "fear in the hearts of Indians".
Instead of showing any compassion for the innocent victims, the defendant believed that the Lashkar leader who planned the attack and the nine Lashkar operatives who carried out the attacks, "deserved medals."
A couple of pieces of so far unknown information to have come forth in the prosecutors' position paper relate to an intercepted conversation of Rana's wife Samraz as well as the fact that he suffered a heart attack in June last year.
The documents say, "Defendant (Tahawwur Rana) repeatedly attempts to draw a contrast between Headley and himself, relying upon letters from various family members, including his wife. His wife, however, was intercepted in a recorded conversation prior to his arrest in which she expressed that Rana was just like Headley. She stated, "Dawood [Headley] is absolutely crazy. . . . Both [Rana and Headley] are alike [and] have ended up together. They talk nonsense all day, idiots. That's not how Islam spreads! . . . Such as, 'kill him, he is not practicing like us - kill him, do that to him, do this to him, he is like this - look, how that woman is - is this how Islam spreads? . . . Hatred spreads like this, not Islam."
It would be extraordinary if a lighter sentence is sought for him despite the absence of any mitigating circumstances other than that he has cooperated with US investigators to their satisfaction. However, it was in exchange for that cooperation that the prosecution took the death penalty off the table as well as a likely extradition to India where too he is wanted to stand trial.
Mayank Chhaya can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org