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From Daood to David

Information collected by investigative agencies has uncovered tantalising glimpses into David Coleman Headley’s bizarre journey, report Stavan Desai and Debasish Panigrahi.

delhi Updated: Nov 21, 2009 22:18 IST

Born in 1960 to a Pakistani father and an American mother, Daood Gilani grew up as an orthodox Muslim.

After his parents’ bitter divorce and two unsuccessful attempts by his mother to smuggle him out of Pakistan, his father enrolled him at Pakistan’s prestigious Hasan Abdal Cadet College in Rawalpindi. Gilani was then 14.

Three years later his mother succeeded in getting her son to the US. They settled in the picturesque state of Pennsylvania.

After a couple of failed business ventures (including a video rental store), Daood and his mother moved to New York city.

It is here that Daood had his first brush with the world of crime and came into contact with Afghans and Pakistanis.

It is still unclear when he moved out of New York, set up a base in Chicago and established contact with the Lashkar-e-Tayyeba.

What security agencies do know is that he changed his name from Daood Gilani to David Coleman Headley in 2006 and leased a flat in central Chicago in the name of a dead man.

“Obviously he had received basic training by then. Otherwise, why did he change his name and rent a house in the name of a dead person?” argues an officer working on the investigation. “This is the first thing underground operatives are told to do by their handlers.”


Headley’s fascination with Judaism began in late 2005, around the time the controversial cartoons about the Prophet Mohammad were published by Danish newspaper Jyllands Posten. It was also during this period that he changed his name from Daood Gilani to the Jewish-sounding David Coleman Headley.

This was done under the direction of his handler in Pakistan (identified as ‘Individual A’ in FBI documents) who mistakenly thought the cartoonist and the editor of the newspaper were Jews.

Attacks on the newspaper’s offices in Copenhagen and Arhus in Denmark were planned, as also on a synagogue in that country. The attacks were not carried out eventually, but the Jewish fascination remained.

When Headley was arrested at Chicago’s O’Hare airport on October 3,2009, a book titled How to Pray Like a Jew was recovered from his luggage.

And during his stay in Mumbai between 2006 and 2009, the terror operative had claimed to be a Jew.

Investigations have also revealed that, in mid-July 2008, Headley had posed as a Jew when he visited Nariman House, the Jewish Chabad centre in Colaba. He also visited the Chabad centre at Pune in the same year.

All of this raises a question: Was Headley the man who conducted the recce of Nariman house in preparation for the 26/11 terror strike? Was it part of a misconstrued jihad against Jews?

As with so many other questions swirling around the mysterious Mr Headley, we will have to wait for the answers.