Skip to main content

2 Chicago men arrested on terror charges

  • Two charged with conspiracy to support or commit attacks against Danish newspaper
  • Newspaper offended Muslims by publishing cartoons of Prophet Mohammed
  • Arrests are not related to others in U.S. in recent weeks, Justice Department says

Chicago, Illinois (CNN) -- Federal authorities have arrested two Chicago men on charges of plotting to commit terrorism abroad, the Justice Department announced Tuesday.

David Coleman Headley, 49, and Tahawwur Hussain Rana, 48, were charged with conspiracy to support or commit attacks against a Danish newspaper that published controversial cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed four years ago, the government said.

Headley referred to the plan as "the Mickey Mouse project" in coded communications with other conspirators, the FBI said in court papers.

Headley went to Denmark twice this year to scope out the newspaper's offices to prepare for an attack by two other people, he told the FBI, according to court papers.

Another conspirator, identified in FBI papers as a member of the violent extremist group Lashkar-e-Taiba, told him to conduct surveillance of a synagogue, as well, under the mistaken impression that the cultural editor of the Danish newspaper is Jewish.

Headley suggested killing the editor, Flemming Rose, and a cartoonist, Kurt Westergaard -- who depicted the Prophet Mohammed with a turban shaped like a bomb -- rather than attacking the offices of the paper itself, the official complaint against Headley says.

He was also in contact with Ilyas Kashmiri, a high-ranking operative in a militant group associated with al Qaeda, court papers say.

Kashmiri was a member of Harakat-ul-Jihad-Islami, which the U.S. government said in 2006 was a "terrorist group deemed to be of relevance to the global war on terrorism." He is said to have been No. 4 on Pakistan's most-wanted list at one time. He was reported killed in a drone strike last month.

He was reported killed in a drone strike last month, but Pakistan now believes that he is alive in South or North Waziristan, a senior Pakistani government official said. The official declined to be named because of the sensitivity of the subject.

Headley traveled to Pakistan's Federally Administered Tribal Area to meet Kashmiri and the third alleged conspirator, identified only as Individual A, after the first trip to Denmark.

Headley was on the way to Pakistan again when he was arrested, possibly to meet Kashmiri, the government said.

The Department of Justice says the government knows the identity of Lashkar-e-Taiba Member A, who it says "has substantial influence and responsibility within the organization." The United States considers the group a terrorist organization.

The arrests of Headley and Rana are not related to a string of arrests of suspected terrorists across the United States in recent weeks, according to a Department of Justice news release.

Federal agents arrested Headley on October 3 at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport. Rana was arrested at his home October 18, the department said. The arrests were kept secret until Tuesday so as to not compromise other investigations, the department said.

Rana's lawyer, Patrick Blegen, said his client "adamantly denies the charges and eagerly awaits his opportunity to contest them in court and to clear his name and his family's name."

Rana faces a court hearing Wednesday.

A court appearance for Headley is scheduled for December 4. "Because of the seriousness of the allegations we won't have any comment at this time," said his lawyer, John Theis.

If convicted, Headley would face a maximum sentence of life in prison for conspiracy to murder or maim persons abroad.

Rana helped arrange Headley's travel and hide the reason for it, and he discussed potential targets for attack, the federal complaint says. He would face up to 15 years in prison for conspiracy to provide material support to terrorism. Headley also faces that charge and possible sentence.

Headley is a U.S. citizen who changed his name from Daood Gilani in 2006, and Rana is a Canadian citizen originally from Pakistan who lives primarily in Chicago, according to the Justice Department.

U.S. officials have informed Pakistan of the terror charges against the two Chicago men, and Pakistan is ready to cooperate, the Pakistani official said.

The Danish newspaper sparked Muslim fury worldwide -- and some deadly protests -- in 2005 and 2006 by publishing the cartoons of Mohammed, the founder of Islam.

A dozen caricatures appeared in September 2005 in the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten.

Many Muslims considered some of the images particularly offensive, including one of Mohammed wearing a turban shaped like a bomb with a lit fuse.

Danish authorities arrested a number of people in December who allegedly were planning an attack on Westergaard, the cartoonist.

CNN's Reza Sayah in Islamabad, Pakistan, and Carol Cratty in Washington contributed to this report.