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Man sentenced in terror plot against Danish newspaper

| Thursday, Jan. 17, 2013, 10:10 p.m.

CHICAGO — A former Chicago businessman was sentenced Thursday to 14 years in prison for his involvement in one of the most significant terrorism cases ever brought in Chicago.

Tahawwur Rana was convicted by a federal jury in 2011 of aiding in a plot to behead employees at a Danish newspaper that published cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad. The cartoons stirred outrage among Muslim world.

Rana faced up to 30 years in prison. He let a friend — who was scouting out the newspaper office in Denmark's capital, Copenhagen — use the cover that he was traveling in connection with Rana's immigration business. The attack was aborted.

U.S. District Judge Harry Leinenweber made rulings that lowered the maximum faced by Rana to 14 years under federal sentencing guidelines.

Two of Rana's adult children expressed relief following the sentencing.

The federal jury that convicted Rana in connection with the plot acquitted him of an even more serious charge —that he aided in the planning of the 2008 terrorist attacks that killed more than 160 people in Mumbai, India's largest city. He would have faced life in prison if he had been convicted of that offense.

Rana's attorneys had argued for a sentence of seven to nine years in prison, saying that Rana was not a terrorist and was a minor player in the Danish newspaper conspiracy that involved influential terrorist leaders.

Rana, a Pakistani native, immigrated to the United States from Canada. He worked as a doctor before settling into Chicago, where he set up several businesses and raised three children with his wife.

The highly watched trial that drew international media attention included testimony from self-admitted terrorist David Coleman Headley, a childhood friend of Rana. Headly pleaded guilty in both the Danish and Mumbai terror attacks and is scheduled to be sentenced next week.

At trial, Rana's lawyers portrayed their client as Headley's dupe and said the friendship led to Rana's downfall.

In arguing for the maximum sentence, federal prosecutors cast Rana as fully committed to subverting the governments in India and Denmark.

In sentencing documents, they said Rana “engaged in extensive terrorist tradecraft” in the newspaper plot by setting up secret email accounts, passing messages among other conspirators and providing Headley with the cover as an employee of his immigration business so that he could scout the newspaper offices in Copenhagen.

Rana's attorneys argued in their own sentencing papers that there was no evidence that the planned newspaper office attack was part of a broader terror plot. Rather, they said, it was a retaliation against the paper for publishing the cartoons.

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