Devon Avenue is one of Chicago’s richest melting pots, where Indian stores sell colorful saris next to Pakistani halal butcher shops and Islamic bookstores. Farther west are Orthodox synagogues, Jewish bakeries and Russian gift shops. So residents were shocked when two local men were arrested in 2009 on accusations that they had helped plot the November 2008 terrorist attack in Mumbai, India, and a never-realized assault on a Danish newspaper that had published cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad.
Federal prosecutors allege that Tahawwur Hussain Rana, 49, a Pakistani immigrant who owns an immigration-law office and a butcher shop on Devon Avenue, knew about the Mumbai attacks in advance and helped David Coleman Headley, a Pakistani-American, scout locations. In March, Mr. Headley, 50, pleaded guilty to charges that could carry a life sentence. Mr. Rana’s trial, which was scheduled to begin Feb. 14, was recently delayed until May 16.
The government says that Mr. Rana falsified immigration documents for Mr. Headley and helped him use Mr. Rana’s First World Immigration Services as cover for his activities in India and Denmark. Mr. Headley opened a branch of the law office in Mumbai and pretended that he wanted to place an ad for legal services in the Danish paper, according to his plea agreement. The government also says that Mr. Rana passed messages between Mr. Headley and one of his Pakistan-based operatives, and that Mr. Headley gave Mr. Rana a Qaeda video taking responsibility for an attack on the Danish Embassy in Pakistan.
Both men are being held at the Metropolitan Correctional Center in downtown Chicago.
More than 160 people were killed in the Mumbai attacks, in which Indian and Jewish institutions, including the Taj Mahal Hotel and the Chabad House, were attacked. But in Chicago, residents said the arrests had not caused any noticeable tensions along Devon Avenue. People in the neighborhood say they monitor conflict in their homelands from afar, but consider themselves Americans primarily concerned with making a living.
Many residents and merchants on Devon Avenue greeted the news that Mr. Rana’s trial had been postponed with the kind of skepticism and annoyance that has characterized local response to the arrests. Many doubt the strength of the government’s case against Mr. Rana, whose lawyer has portrayed him as misled or duped by Mr. Headley. Others were shocked by the charges, which they say are contrary to the diverse and harmonious character of the neighborhood. They say they just want to put this chapter to rest.
Merchants and residents say the arrests have not soured relations or business on the street, where Mr. Rana’s law firm and grocery store still do healthy business, but they fear extra scrutiny directed at the community during the trial.
Ahmed Khan, 26, an aldermanic candidate in the 50th Ward who runs the Par-Birdie grocery near Mr. Rana’s law office, does not see Mr. Rana as typical of the close-knit merchants in the community, Mr. Khan came from India as a baby and is married to a Pakistani woman.
“This gentleman is not representative of the community,” he said. “I’m very offended that this individual came and tried to be part of this community and leverage it for what he wanted to do. It’s a community that’s incredibly diverse, where we all share the same concerns, and the concerns for local residents are local concerns like streets and schools.”
A supporter of Mr. Rana, who asked that her name not be published for fear of harassment, said that many locals did not think Mr. Rana was guilty of wrongdoing but would not speak publicly for fear of being singled out by the F.B.I.
Fawad Ahmed, 27, an Afghan immigrant and employee at a halal shop, said, “People talk like he’s a good person.” But, Mr. Ahmed added, “no one knows the real story. Everyone’s confused.”
The Devon Avenue neighborhood became heavily Jewish after World War II, largely because of the presence of an Eastern European refugee resettlement group. In the 1960s and ’70s, after federal policy changes made it easier for Asians to immigrate to the United States, Indians and Pakistanis began moving into the neighborhood at the same time many Eastern Europeans were moving to the suburbs.
Although political tensions within the Indian and Pakistani communities have sometimes surfaced, residents and community leaders say that for years immigrants have largely left the politics and divisions of their homelands behind. After the Sept. 11 attacks, residents said they feared and experienced some discrimination and suspicion, and many merchants and residents prominently displayed American flags.
Mr. Rana’s law office at 2809 West Devon Avenue and his butcher shop on the 2100 block of West Devon are still in business. The law office has Canadian and American flags in the window — Mr. Rana is a Canadian citizen and lived temporarily in Canada after immigrating to the United States with his wife in 1994.
The butcher shop, Chicago Grocers, sells phone cards, “snacks and sweets,” halal meat and other products to a diverse clientele including Indians and Pakistanis. The window holds a large campaign sign for Alderman Bernard Stone (50th Ward).
Amir Ali, 51, owner of a shop on Devon, said he was concerned that publicity around the trial might make people suspicious of all Pakistanis or Muslims.
“As a Muslim, as a Pakistani guy, he’s not my relative, but maybe some people will think we’re all involved in this,” Mr. Ali said. “Islam is a peaceful religion. We give money to the poor.”
Mr. Rana’s lawyer, Patrick Blegen, told a judge that witnesses who testified during his client’s bond hearing showed he “is a well-respected businessman and has lived a life of almost 50 years now where he has not promoted violence.” Supporters have said Mr. Rana gave free legal help to neighbors and raised money for a medical clinic for the uninsured.
Vijay Gupta, who owns an Indian video store on Devon, said that he had visited lawyers at Mr. Rana’s law firm several times and that he frequently heard complaints from acquaintances that lawyers there filled out paperwork but did not actively advocate for their clients.
The lawyer currently working at the law firm did not return calls.
Residents and employees in Jewish businesses said they were affected by the targeting of Jews in the Mumbai attacks, but many were unaware of the charges that the attacks had been plotted just blocks away.
“No one is even talking about it; no one knew these individuals,” said Alderman Stone, who is Jewish. “Jewish people have been through things like this for centuries.”
Huma Mahtani, an Indian immigrant, and her husband have run a sari shop on Devon Avenue for 25 years. She said she tried to dissuade her daughter from traveling to Mumbai after the attacks and was shocked to learn later that two of the men accused in the plot worked in her neighborhood. But Ms. Mahtani said residents had not dwelled on the arrests.
“People here are just worried about making their mortgages, especially since the recession,” said her husband, Ramesh Mahtani. “Everyone’s quite busy doing their work. It’s not like back home.”
- You: US requests anonymous jury (nation.com.pk)
- “US seems upset about India going public with Headley disclosures” and related posts (taragana.com)
- Obama & Extradition Of American Spy Headley To India (themoderatevoice.com)
- Chicago police on front line of war on terror (seattletimes.nwsource.com)
- Mumbai-Attack ‘Handlers’ Identified (online.wsj.com)
- It was Delhi after Mumbai, Headley tells investigators (topinews.com)
- It could have been Delhi after Mumbai, Headley admits (topinews.com)
- ISI chiefs aided Mumbai terror attacks: Headley (thehindu.com)
- Headley revelations shared with Pak: Hillary (ibnlive.in.com)