Pakistan-born American terrorist David Coleman Headley, to be sentenced by a Chicago court on Thursday for his role in the 26/11 Mumbai attacks, was an important member of the Lashkar-e-Taiba, with direct access to its chief, Hafiz Saeed.
Taj in flames: Smoke and flame billows from the Taj Hotel in Mumbai.
His entry into the ranks of the Lashkar started in Lahore after he saw an LeT poster outside Lahore’s Qadisiya mosque seeking funds for ‘jihad’.
According to what he told a team of NIA officials, the poster prompted him to call the Lashkar office in Lahore to make a donation of R50,000 in Pakistani currency.
A request from Abid — an LeT operative who took the money from Headley — to attend Hafiz Saeed’s lecture fast-tracked his entry into the world of terrorism.
Saeed quoted a Hadith which said “a moment spent in jihad gives you much more sawaab (reward) than the millions of namaz offered in Kaaba and that too on the night of Iailat-ur-Qadr (pious night of Ramzan)”. The quote had considerable influence on Headley, who met the Lashkar chief on subsequent visits to Pakistan in 1999 and 2000 and decided to join the LeT cadre in 2001.
After undergoing training programmes to learn Islamic preaching, handle weapons, conduct reconnaissance and surveillance at Daura-e-Sufa, Daura-e-Aam, Daura-e-Khaas, Daura-e-Ribat, Bait-ul-Rizwan and Daura-e-Tadribul Musaleen training camps in Pakistan between 2002 and 2004, Headley’s impatience to wage war against India finally ended in 2005.
A quick name change in the United States of America from Daood Gilani to David Coleman Headley ensured that nobody suspected him in India. Armed with his mother-in-law’s camera, two credit cards and about $3,500, Headley landed at Mumbai’s international airport on September 14, 2006.
Bashir, a local contact whom fellow-accused and friend Tahawwur Rana had talked to, received Headley at the airport and assured him a room at Hotel Outram in south Mumbai. During his stay till December 14, 2006, Headley extensively videographed places like the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation building, Haji Ali shrine, Gateway of India, Hotel Taj, Apollo Bunder, state police headquarters, DN Road and Azad Maidan.
Headley returned to Pakistan and handed over the photographs and video tapes to Major Iqbal, one of his ISI handlers, and later to Sajid Majid alias Wasi, one of the key conspirators of the 26/11 attacks.
Headley then made a short trip to India on February 21, 2007, and with local help, got a new SIM card and also activated an internet account. He left India on March 15, 2007, only to come back five days later with his Moroccan wife Faiza Outalha and made bookings at the Taj and Trident hotels. After conducting his reconnaissance of the hotels and areas nearby, Headley left India for Dubai on May 15, 2007.
After staying with his wife and children for three days in Dubai, Headley once again entered India on May 20, 2007 for celebrated gym instructor Vilas Warak’s birthday along with Bollywood film director Rahul Bhatt. Though this wasn’t a productive reconnaissance trip, Headley went back to Pakistan and handed over the general photographs he had taken of Mumbai to Major Iqbal and Sajid.
Before his fifth visit to India a top LeT commander, Abdur Rehman, requested Headley to conduct surveillance of the National Defence College in Delhi (NDC) and Major Iqbal asked Headley to get him all information about Pune.
Headley boarded a flight from Lahore to Delhi in September 2007, and after conducting a quick reconnaissance of the NDC, reached Mumbai on September 4, 2007. This was one of the most crucial visits of Headley during which he extensively photographed Hotel Taj, Shiv Sena Bhavan, visited guards posted outside Sena chief Bal Thackeray’s house. When he went back to Pakistan and handed over the video footage he had collected, Headley learnt that LeT was under tremendous pressure to launch a spectacular attack against India as disgruntled fighters were leaving the terrorist organisation.
With specific instructions to check for landing sites in Mumbai, Headley visited India again. He chose the spot where Kasab and nine others alighted off the sea coast in Mumbai.
The US Justice Department has urged the federal judge in Chicago to sentence David Coleman Headley to 30 to 35 years in prison when he faces the court for his conviction on Thursday. David Headley, considered the mastermind behind the Mumbai attacks of 26/11 2008, had pleaded guilty to escape death and extradition to India. India wants to conduct another trial for Headley but the US is opposed to his extradition. The NIA was allowed to interrogate Headley in Chicago in the presence of the FBI. A look at the man’s background:
Who is Headley?
Born to a Pakistani father and an American mother in June 1960, Daood Gilani aka David Coleman Headley spent his early days in Pakistan’s Attock district
He studied in Pakistan till his parents separated and then relocated to the US
Headley studied accounting at a community college in Philadelphia, and later operated a video store, Fliks Video, City Centre, New York
Later, on a visit to Pakistan, Headley, who used to visit Qadisiya Mosque in Lahore, saw an LeT poster which sought funds to fight ‘Jihad’ or ‘Holy War’ in India in 1998
The poster touched Headley, and he called the LeT’s office based at Model Town in Lahore to make a donation of R50,000 (Pakistani currency). He joined the LeT and became an important member.
Charges against Headley
Charges Headley faces include:
Conspiracy involving bombing public places in India
Conspiracy to murder and maim persons in India, Denmark
Attending terror training camps in Pakistan and conducting an extensive surveillance of targets in India
Sharing photographs and videos of the targets with the LeT and his ISI handlers
Aiding and abetting the murder of US citizens in India
Providing material support to foreign terrorist plots
Providing material support to top terror group Lashkar-e-Taiba
Using his friend Tahawwur Rana's immigration company as a cover for surveillance activities in India and Denmark on behalf of Pakistan-based terrorist groups, including LeT.