A month before Prime Minister Narendra Modi's first state visit to the US, a federal court agreed to New Delhi's request, through Washington, for the extradition of Pakistani-origin Canadian businessman Tahawwur Rana to India where he is sought for his involvement in the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks.
In a major victory for India's fight in bringing the perpetrators of the 26/11 Mumbai attacks to justice, US Magistrate Judge Jacqueline Chooljian of the District Court of the Central District of California issued a 48-page order on Wednesday, saying Rana "should be extradited to India" under the extradition treaty between India and the United States.
"The court has reviewed and considered all of the documents submitted in support of and in opposition to the request, and has considered the arguments presented at the hearing. Based on such review and consideration and for the reasons discussed herein, the court makes the findings set forth below, and CERTIFIES to the Secretary of State of the United States the extraditability of Rana on the charged offences that are the subject of the request," the order said.
The order comes just over a month before Modi arrives in the US for his first state visit to Washington DC and will be hosted by President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden for a state diner on June 22.
The order noted that the court cannot certify Rana's extradition unless there is probable cause to believe he committed the offences for which extradition is sought. Citing its reasoning in detail, the order states: "Accordingly, the court finds there is probable cause to believe Rana committed the charged offences as to which extradition has been sought and should be extradited to India under the extradition Treaty between the United States and India."
India had filed a complaint on June 10, 2020 seeking the provisional arrest of Rana with a view towards extradition. The Biden administration had supported and approved the extradition of Rana to India.
In response to a question, a State Department spokesperson told PTI that "we refer you" to the Department of Justice for specifics on this case.
"However, we can say that we are committed to confronting terrorism across the world and we deeply value our counterterrorism relationship with India. We continue to call for those involved in the 2008 Mumbai attacks to be brought to justice," the spokesperson said.
During court hearings, US government attorneys argued that Rana was aware that his childhood friend David Coleman Headley was involved with Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), and that by assisting Headley and affording him cover for his activities, he was supporting the terrorist organisation and its associates.
Rana knew of Headley's meetings, what was discussed, and the planning of the attacks, including some of the targets. The US government asserted that Rana was part of the conspiracy and there is probable cause that he committed the substantive crime of commission of a terrorist act.
Rana's attorney on the other hand opposed the extradition.
As many as 166 people, including six Americans, were killed during the attacks by the LeT terrorists. Because members of the conspiracy committed acts resulting in death with the intention of causing death, or at minimum committed those acts knowing its imminent dangers, there is sufficient evidence that the elements for murder would be satisfied, federal prosecutors said.
There is an extradition treaty in place between India and the United States. The judge ruled that Rana's extradition to India is fully under the jurisdiction of the treaty.
India, the judge said, has issued an arrest warrant and charged Rana with the offences on which the United States is proceeding. These include conspiracy to wage war, to commit murder, to commit forgery for the purpose of cheating, to use as genuine a forged document or electronic record, and to commit a terrorist act, waging war, murder, committing a terrorist act and conspiracy to commit a terrorist act.
"The foregoing charged offences constitute extraditable offences within the meaning and scope of the treaty and over which India has jurisdiction," the judge ruled.
The order states that for the court to certify Rana as extraditable, the government must establish that "(1) the extradition judge has jurisdiction to conduct proceedings, (2) the extradition court has jurisdiction over the fugitive, (3) the extradition treaty is in full force and effect, (4) the crime falls within the terms of the treaty and (5) there is competent legal evidence to support a finding of extraditability".
The judge said that sufficient competent evidence has been presented to establish probable cause that Rana is the individual who has been charged in India and whose extradition has been sought by India in this action, and that Rana committed the aforementioned offences for which extradition has been sought.
"Based on the foregoing, the court concludes that Rana is extraditable for the offences for which extradition has been requested and on which the United States is proceeding and hereby CERTIFIES this finding to the United States Secretary of State," the order said.
"It is therefore ordered that Tahawwur Hussain Rana be and remain committed to the custody of the United States Marshal pending a final decision on extradition and surrender by the Secretary of State to India for trial of the offences as to which extradition has been granted pursuant to Title 18, United States Code, section 3186 and the treaty," the judge ruled.