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35 yrs jail for Headley not enough: India; US justifies decision

PTI  New Delhi, January 25, 2013
First Published: 18:31 IST(25/1/2013) | Last Updated: 23:13 IST(25/1/2013)

India on Friday made clear its disappointment over David Headley not getting a "harsher" sentence than 35 years in jail for helping plot Mumbai terror attack even as the US justified its decision against seeking death penalty for the Pakistani-American LeT terrorist.

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External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid while asserting that India will try to push for Headley's extradition from the US for facing trial in India said he would have got "harsher punishment" had he been tried in India.

As the lighter sentence for 52-year-old Headley came in for condemnation in the country, Union home secretary R K Singh said he and all those who were involved in the 2008 carnage, in which 166 people were killed, should get death penalty.

Reacting to the sentencing of Headley by a Chicago court yesterday, Khurshid said India is "disappointed" since the government wanted him to face trial in India where he would have been awarded "severest sentence."

"If the trial would have been held here, the punishment would have been tougher....the US legal system had no provision to extradite him, but we will still try and get him tried in India," Khurshid told reporters. He, however, said the sentence handed over to Headley was a "beginning".

The Home Secretary said, "We want death sentence for Headley and those who were involved in killing of 166 people in Mumbai. We will keep asking for his death sentence."

In a statement, the US embassy here defended its decision not to seek death penalty for Headley, saying it was done in view of his willingness to cooperate with law enforcement authorities to help bring the perpetrators to justice and help prevent other terror strikes.

"The 35-year sentence without parole imposed on David Coleman Headley marks another step in US efforts to bring to justice those responsible for the 26/11 Mumbai terrorist attacks. This sentence reflects both severe punishment for Headley’s role in the heinous 26/11 crimes and a decision by the US Department of Justice not to seek the death penalty," it said.

This decision was taken because of Headley’s willingness to cooperate with law enforcement authorities –American, Indian and others – to help bring the perpetrators to justice and prevent other terrorist attacks, it added.

Khurshid said India has full faith in the US legal system.

"The 35 year sentencing and what the judge said is a beginning. We understand there are legal procedures in the US but nevertheless the position we have, the request (extradition) that we have made remains intact," he said.

"Headley was involved not only in Mumbai conspiracy, but he also carried out recce in other places. Our request for his extradition stands. As far as sentence is concerned, all those involved in 26/11, should be given death," home secretary R K Singh said.

The US statement said that Headley provided information that was of substantial value in its efforts to combat international terrorism and to save lives apart from testifying against a co-conspirator, Tahawwur Rana, who is now serving a 14-year sentence in federal prison.

Headley provided extensive detail about accused terrorist leader Ilyas Kashmiri and his network, it said, adding Headley also answered questions from Indian law enforcement.

Apart from assisting US investigators in bringing criminal charges against five other terrorists, Headley also provided US law enforcement authorities with extensive detail about the structure, personnel, methods, abilities and plans of the terrorist organization, Lashkar-e-Tayyiba.

"The US and India counter-terrorism cooperation is stronger than ever. The FBI provided its expertise and testified in the Indian prosecution of Ajmal Kasab. We are working together to see that those responsible for 26/11 and other acts of terrorism are brought to justice, wherever they may be," the statement said.

Headley was on Thursday sentenced to 35 years in jail by a US Court for helping plot the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks but escaped death penalty under a deal with the US government over which the judge had serious reservations.


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