The United States government has told a court in California that Tahawwur Rana, a key accused in the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks, be cleared for extradition to India, The Indian Express reported on Tuesday. The government also opposed the Pakistani-origin Canadian businessman’s release, saying that he is a “flight risk”, according to PTI.

India’s Ministry of External Affairs had applied for Rana’s detention in December last year. In June, a court in Illinois had commuted Rana’s jail sentence, which is scheduled to get over in September 2021, as he tested positive for the coronavirus. But he was again put under detention on June 10 after the National Investigation Agency made a provisional request for his arrest due to his involvement in the terror attacks on November 26, 2008. Over 160 people, including six Americans, were killed after terrorists launched coordinated attacks at 12 locations in Mumbai.

On September 28, Christopher D Grigg, chief of the National Security Division of the US Attorney’s Office, and Attorney Nicola T Hanna submitted in the Court for Central District of California that Rana’s arguments against his extradition to India had no merit.

“The elements necessary for the court to certify Rana’s eligibility for extradition have been met,” they said. “A valid extradition treaty permits extradition for some of the offences charges in India. And there is a probable cause to believe that Rana committed these offences.”

The US government counsel also told the court that the accused had wanted it to be conveyed to one of the Pakistani co-conspirators a year after the 2008 attacks that he deserved a “medal” for “top class contribution”.

Rana is a school friend of David Coleman Headley, who has been convicted for the 26/11 attacks and is serving a 35-year prison term in the US. Headley had entered into a plea bargain with the US government after his arrest in 2009 and he cannot be extradited to India due to the “double jeopardy” clause which bars punishment for the same crime twice.

“Referring to a 1971 attack on his school in Pakistan, Headley told Rana that he believed he was ‘even with the Indians now’,” Hanna said in the court documents.

The counsel also told the California court that the current case cannot be compared with Headley’s. It said the offences against Rana are not the same in the two countries.

“Double jeopardy likewise does not apply as extradition proceedings are not criminal proceedings in which the fugitive is entitled to the same rights available during criminal proceedings,” they said. “The extradition proceeding makes no determination of guilt or innocence. It is designed only to trigger the start of criminal proceedings against an accused; guilt remains to be determined in the courts of the demanding country.”

The counsel continued: “Unlike Rana, Headley immediately accepted responsibility for his conduct and pleaded guilty to all the charges in the superseding indictment...Because Headley fulfilled the required terms, the plea agreement established that Headley would not be extradited to India. Rana’s situation is different because he neither pleaded guilty nor cooperated with the United States.”

Rana had falsely represented Headley as an employee of his visa facilitation company in Mumbai to give him cover for the reconnaissance.

Last month, Minister of External Affairs S Jaishankar had said that India will keep the global spotlight “firmly” on cross-border terrorism against the country, in an apparent reference to Pakistan on the anniversary of the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks.