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Chicago man gets 14 years in plot to kill Danish newspaper staff

Tahawwur Ran| CBS2 Chicago

Tahawwur Rana | CBS2 Chicago

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Updated: February 19, 2013 2:12PM

The terrorist plot he backed had been foiled.

He’d already spent three years in federal lockup — one of them isolated in “the hole.” And Tahawwur Rana had just learned it would be another decade before he’ll taste freedom.

But the bearded 52-year-old Chicago businessman allowed himself the faintest of smiles as he was led in chains from a federal courtroom Thursday.

The 14-year sentence Judge Harry Leinenweber handed Rana for his role in a plot to behead Danish journalists was less than half the 30 years prosecutors originally wanted — lenient enough that his lawyers exchanged congratulatory handshakes.

It was a low-key end to one of the most significant terror cases ever tried in Chicago.

Pakistani-born, Canadian citizen Rana was convicted in 2011 for supporting South Asian terror group Lashkar-e-Taiba’s plan to attack the Copenhagen office of Jyllands-Posten, a newspaper that offended Muslims worldwide when it published cartoons of the prophet Mohammed.

Rana’s decision not to testify at his sentencing hearing Thursday left the judge to ponder how an “intelligent” man with no criminal background and a history of helping others “got involved in such a dastardly plot.”

“I don’t understand his mindset,” Leinenweber told a courtroom packed with Rana’s relatives, other supporters and international journalists.

The judge said that the plan to throw victims’ heads from the windows of the newspaper office could only have been worse “if it was carried out.”

Though the 14 year sentence he handed Rana was at the top of the guideline range, the judge rejected prosecutors’ argument that the Danish government was the true target of the plot — a finding that could have doubled Rana’s sentence had it gone the other way.

It was a second blow in the case for federal prosecutors who at a 2011 trial failed to convince a jury of more serious charges connecting Rana to the 2008 terror attacks that killed 166 people in Mumbai, India.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Dan Collins argued Thursday that Rana had supported Lashkar-e-Taiba for years, even after the deadly Mumbai attack, and that “he has never accepted responsibility” for his actions.

But representing Rana, Patrick Blegen said Rana had only purchased a ticket and provided a cover story for a lifelong pal, David Headley, who went to Copenhagen to scout the target and kept Rana in the dark about most of his terror activities. He blamed Headley, who testified against Rana at trial, for converting him to a violent form of Islam.

Headley — whose testimony also linked Pakistani security forces to the Mumbai attack — is due to be sentenced next week.

Rana is all but certain to be deported once he completes his sentence, his attorneys say.

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