Federal authorities announced Tuesday that they had broken up a Chicago-based plot to help attack the offices of a Danish newspaper that once published cartoons depicting the prophet Muhammed.
Publication of the cartoons in 2005 sparked outrage among many Muslims internationally. It also triggered calls by Islamic militants for retaliation.
Federal prosecutors said they believe the two Chicago men, David Coleman Headley and Tahawwur Hussain Rana, were helping to plan a potential retaliatory attack against the Danish newspaper with the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba (LET), which is classified as a terrorist organization by the US government.
Mr. Headley, a US citizen, was arrested Oct. 3 by Federal Bureau of Investigation agents at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport as he was about to board a flight to Pakistan via Philadelphia. His alleged co-conspirator, Mr. Rana, a citizen of Canada, was picked up Oct. 18 at his home in Chicago.
Announcing the arrests, US Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald said there was no danger of attacks in the Chicago area. "Law enforcement has a duty to be vigilant to guard against not just those who would carry out attacks here on our soil but those who plot on our soil to help carry out violent attacks overseas," he said in a statement.
"This case is a reminder that the threat posed by international terrorist organizations is global in nature and requires constant vigilance at home and abroad," added David Kris, assistant attorney general for national security. More arrests are said to be expected.
According to federal affidavits filed in the US District Court in Chicago, the plot began in October 2008 when Headley allegedly posted a message on an Internet discussion group suggesting he might take action against the Danish cartoonists and others at the newspaper for "making fun of Islam."
Headley, who changed his name in 2006 from Daood Gilani, reportedly wrote that he was: "disposed towards violence for the offending parties."
Officials say the two men and their contacts in Pakistan used code words in e-mails and other communications. The plan was called the "Mickey Mouse Project," "mmp," and "the northern project."
They say e-mails were coded with words such as "investments," "projects," "business," and "actions."
Headley traveled to Denmark in January 2009 and visited the offices of the newspaper, Morgenavisen Jyllands-Posten. The affidavits say he then traveled to Pakistan's border tribal region and met personally with Ilyas Kashmiri, operations chief of Harakat-ul Jihad Islami, a group the US government classifies as a terror organization with ties to both Al Qaeda and LET.
After returning to Chicago last summer, Headley continued to exchange e-mails with members of the Pakistani groups and asked if the Denmark project was on hold, according to the affidavits. Intercepted e-mails suggest that group leaders were considering using Headley to identify potential targets for attacks in India, the affidavits say.
Headley returned to Denmark in July 2009 on a trip partly arranged by Mr. Rana. US intelligence agents intercepted communications suggesting that Headley was planning to travel back to Pakistan in October to meet with Mr. Kashmiri and others associated with the LET, according to the affidavits.
He was arrested as he prepared to board his flight from Chicago. In his luggage agents discovered a computer memory stick that contained 10 short videos of Copenhagen, including footage of the newspaper building during the day and night, a nearby Danish military barracks, and the exterior and interior of Copenhagen's central train station.
In addition, according to the affidavit, Headley had an airline reservation made by Rana to fly from Atlanta to Copenhagen on Oct. 29, 2009.
Headley has been charged with conspiring to commit a terrorist act outside the US and with conspiring to provide material support to an overseas terrorism conspiracy.
Rana is charged with conspiring to provide material support to a foreign terrorism conspiracy.
If convicted, Headley faces up to life in prison for the terror conspiracy charge. Both Headley and Rana face up to 15 years in prison on the material support conspiracy charge.