A top Indian Mujahideen (IM) operative who escaped from a quake-damaged Nepal prison had hosted 2008 Mumbai attacks plotter David Coleman Headley in the Himalayan nation, police sources said on Tuesday.
Headley had done the legwork for Pakistan-based terror group Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), identifying possible targets before the 26/11 carnage in Mumbai in which 166 people were killed.
He stayed with Irfan Ahmad, the IM's Nepal head who was a former Lashkar militant, during a reconnaissance sortie in the neighbouring nation, the sources said. He had gone to Nepal in June 2008, four months before the Mumbai attacks.
The 49-year-old Irfan was caught by a Delhi Police special cell team at Bahraich in Uttar Pradesh, where he was hiding after escaping from Sindhupalchok jail when the 7.9-magnitude quake on April 25 reduced prison walls to rubble. He was imprisoned in 2010 for faking papers to obtain Nepalese citizenship.
Irfan alias Pappu had apparently told police during interrogation about his links with Headley, who has been arrested by the US authorities after 26/11.
"A Pakistan-based operative contacted Irfan and told him that a smart-looking man with a good build and fluent English will come to you. He won't need much help but should be taken care of. Headleythen reached Kathmandu … Irfan received him," an officer said, quoting the arrested IM militant's interrogation report.
The report says Headley stayed with Irfan for a few days before moving to Bengaluru en route to Mumbai. "Headley was reportedly exploring routes for the terror team to reach Mumbai for the attack," a source said.
Headley, too, has taken Irfan's name during interrogation as an "important component" in the terror module's setup.
Other than the US-based terrorist, Irfan was in direct contact with Abdul Rehman Pasha, the main handler of the Pakistani jihadists who executed the 26/11 massacre. "Irfan was in constant touch with Pasha as Nepal was used to sneak Pakistan-trained terrorists into India. Irfan used to oversee arrangements for each sneak-in," the source said.
Pasha was a major in the Pakistan Army before he joined Lashkar and on his direction Irfan had collected detailed information on military training schools and camps in India - information that came in handy during 26/11.
Police said Irfan had been operating from Nepal since he jumped parole 14 years ago after a short stint in Tihar jail, where he was lodged for executing several train blasts as an LeT militant in the aftermath of the 1992 Babri Masjid demolition.