Chicago: Men Charged in Danish Terror Plot

(Bloomberg) -- Two Chicago men were charged with plotting to attack “facilities and employees” of a Danish newspaper that printed cartoons depicting the Islamic prophet Muhammad in 2005, a federal prosecutor said.

David Coleman Headley, 49, and Tahawwur Hussain Rana, 48, were accused of conspiring to assist in or perpetrate terrorist acts against the newspaper’s facilities, U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald in Chicago said today in a statement.

Headley was arrested on Oct. 3 by the FBI’s joint terrorism task force. Rana, a Canadian citizen, was apprehended Oct. 18 at his home. They have been in federal custody since their arrests, prosecutors said.

“The criminal complaints unsealed today have exposed a serious plot against overseas targets by two Chicago-based men working with Pakistani-based terrorist organizations,” Fitzgerald said.

The alleged plot to stage one or more attacks on the facilities of the Danish paper, Morgenavisen Jyllands-Posten, was referred to by Headley as the “Mickey Mouse Project” in coded communications with alleged accomplices, the prosecutor said.

Headley, charged with conspiracy to murder or maim people abroad, faces a maximum sentence of life imprisonment if convicted. Both men were charged with conspiracy to provide material support to terrorism, punishable by as long as 15 years in prison.

‘Respected Businessman’

“Mr. Rana is a well respected businessman in the Chicagoland community,” his defense attorney, Patrick Blegen, said in a phone interview, referring to the Chicago metropolitan area. “He adamantly denies the charges and eagerly awaits his opportunity to contest them in court.”

Rana, who Blegen said has lived in Chicago for more than 10 years, manages an immigration services business and a Halal meat processing business in Kinsman, Illinois, about 80 miles southwest of Chicago.

An attorney for Headley, John Theis, declined to comment today on prosecutors’ claims. “We’re still processing the allegations,” he said.

Headley was arrested at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport before boarding a flight to Philadelphia, where he intended to travel on to Pakistan, according to Fitzgerald’s statement.

Danish Trip

Headley allegedly visited two different Jyllands-Posten offices in January, one in Copenhagen and another in Viby, Denmark. At the Copenhagen site, he told employees he was visiting on behalf of First World Immigration Services -- the business managed by Rana -- which was considering opening offices in that country and advertising in the newspaper, prosecutors said.

Jakob Scharf, director general of the Danish Security and Intelligence Service, said his agency viewed the alleged plot “very seriously.”

“One of the arrested individuals has an extensive network that includes leading militant extremists in Pakistan who not only wish to strike against Denmark, but who have previously proven capable of performing ruthless acts of terrorism,” Scharf said in a statement.

The main targets were the newspaper’s Viby and Copenhagen offices, Scharf said today at a press conference. Kurt Westergaard, the cartoonist who drew the picture of Muhammad wearing a bomb in his turban, and Flemming Rose, an editor at the newspaper who was responsible for printing the drawings, were two specific targets of the planned attack, Scharf said.

Hand Weapons, Explosives

The planned attacks would have involved “hand weapons and explosives,” Scharf said.

“We’re continuing the investigations and can’t rule out that it will lead to more arrests,” Scharf said. “We want to emphasize that the attacks probably weren’t imminent.”

In September 2005, Jyllands-Posten published a set of 12 political cartoons that included several depictions of Muhammad. The caricatures touched off protests, first in Denmark and later across Europe and throughout the Islamic world, where any images of the prophet are considered blasphemous.

The Danish security agency, known by the acronym PET, worked closely with the FBI on its investigation, he said.

Headley, according to U.S. prosecutors, traveled this year to Pakistan, where he met with other alleged plotters including Ilyas Kashmiri, who has alleged links to the al Qaeda international terrorist organization.

Pakistani Group

Upon his arrest, Headley told FBI agents that he had started working with the Pakistani group Lashkar-e-Taiba before 2006, according to the criminal complaint against him that was unsealed today. The group was designated as a foreign terrorist organization by the U.S. State Department in 2001, prosecutors said.

Headley, who prosecutors said changed his name from Daood Gilani in 2006, also told agents that he scouted the Jyllands- Posten offices “in preparation for an attack to be carried out by persons associated with Kashmiri and another unidentified individual.

“This was very worrying information,” Joern Mikkelsen, editor-in-chief of the Viby-based newspaper said in a statement on the daily’s Web site. “We’re in close contact with the PET as we have been on a running basis the past four years since the Muhammad crisis started.”

Mikkelsen said the newspaper is following PET’s recommendations closely. “This is very unpleasant for all our employees and we are all deeply moved by the threats,” he said.

Rana is scheduled to appear in federal court in Chicago tomorrow for a bail hearing, according to Randall Samborn, a Fitzgerald spokesman. Headley’s bail hearing is scheduled for Dec. 4, Samborn said.

The cases are U.S. v. Headley, 09cr830 and U.S. v. Rana, 09cr849, U.S. District Court, Northern District of Illinois (Chicago).

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