The would-be terrorists -- one an American, the other a Canadian -- called their plot to murder two Danish newspapermen the "Mickey Mouse Project." The cutesy code-name may have stemmed from the fact that David Coleman Headley and Tahawwur Hussain Rana allegedly planned to murder the men they held responsible for the 2005 "Danish Cartoon Controversy."
Headley, 49, and Rana, 48, grew up in Pakistan, and met in the mid-1970s when both studied military strategies at Cadet College Hasan Abdal, a military prep school. In those days, Headley went by the name of Daood Gilani. But, in 2006, Gilani Anglicized his name. He did so, he said later, in the hope of drawing less attention to himself as he traveled back and forth to Pakistan and Denmark.
Gilani/Headley and Rana would eventually immigrate to North America, where they would remain in touch. Both lived in Chicago -- in fact, not far from each other -- Rana in a modest home on the 6000 block of North Campbell Avenue, and Headley in an apartment leased to a dead man. By now, Rana had Canadian citizenship and was a highly successful businessman. He owned a company called First World Immigration Services, with offices in Toronto, Chicago, and New York. He also owned a corner grocery store in Chicago, and a goat farm/ritual slaughterhouse in Kinsman, Illinois, some 80 miles southwest of Chicago. Kinsman has a population of 110. And a nuclear power plant.
(Authorities, however, said there is no evidence that Headley or Rana were contemplating an attack in the Chicago area. And the fact that an alleged Muslim terrorist owned a slaughterhouse just a few miles from a nuclear power plant must then be seen as a mere coincidence.)
The FBI, meanwhile, had been keeping tabs on Headley. One of the things they wanted to know was how was a guy with no visible means of support able to afford such extensive international travel? This led them to Headley's old schoolmate Rana.
Though old friends, Rana and Headley could not have been more different. Unlike Rana, Headley was uninterested in getting ahead in business, though, ironically, he often used terms like "income," and "business," as code words for his murder plans. "I don't care [which terrorist group] I work for, as long as I am making 'money…'" he once said. In fact, Headley appears to have spent his whole life nursing grudges as both a Pakistani ultra-nationalist and a radical Muslim. Before he decided to strike back at the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten, Headley worked with the Kashmir-based terror group Lashkar-e-Taiba and the Pakistani-based terror group Harakat-ul-Jihad-Islami. Both groups are rumored to have strong ties with -- surprise -- Pakistan's security service ISI. In fact, the Pakistanis arrested Headley this past summer, only to release him a short time afterward.
ON OCTOBER 29, 2008, Headley posted a heated message to a Yahoo Group site devoted to alumni of his military prep school, which read in part:
Everything is not a joke…We are not rehearsing a skit on Saturday Night Live. Making fun of Islam is making fun of Rasoosallah SAW [Messenger of Allah, Peace be on Him],…call me old-fashioned but I feel disposed towards violence for the offending parties, be they cartoonists from Denmark or Sherry Jones [author of Jewel of Medina] or Irshad Manji [author of The Trouble with Islam Today]…They [jihadists] never started debates with folks who slandered our Prophet, they took violent action. Even if God doesn't give us the opportunity to bring our intentions to fruition, we will claim ajr [a holy reward] for it…
Headley was arrested October 3, at O'Hare Airport, as he was preparing to fly to Pakistan to meet with his terrorist contacts. Rana was picked up Oct. 18, at his modest Chicago home. Almost immediately, Headley opened up and began telling FBI agents about his training with Pakistani terrorist groups. He said that his initial plan called for attacks on the Jyllands-Posten offices, but he later proposed killing only the paper's former cultural editor, Flemming Rose, and Kurt Westergaard, the cartoonist who drew the cartoon of Mohammed with a bomb in his turban. He intended to use both small arms and explosives. He also stated that he had conducted surveillance on nearby Danish troops and a Jewish synagogue. The terrorists were under the mistaken impression that Rose was Jewish. (Among Headley's belongings confiscated at the airport was the book To Pray as a Jew.)
Rana, however, has maintained his innocence. He has been charged with conspiracy to provide material support to an overseas terrorism conspiracy, and awaits further charges. Headley was charged with conspiracy to commit terrorist acts involving murder and maiming outside the United States.
The Danish cartoon controversy occurred nearly half a decade ago. More than 100 people died from the resulting riots and murders. Embassies and European government buildings were torched. When they were told of the Chicago plot, employees at the Jyllands-Posten were surprised. Most had thought that the controversy was behind them.
Headley was right about one thing though. He is "old-fashioned." His behavior would have conformed well to ninth century Arabia. Sadly for him and his ilk, this is 21st century America.
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