The Lashkar-e-Taiba began preparing David Coleman Headley for a attack in India three years before a 10-member terrorist squad struck Mumbai in November 2008, according to the draft of a memoir penned by the Pakistani-American terrorist in prison.
Headley, serving 35 years for his role in planning the Mumbai attacks, has also written about his first meeting with Lashkar militants, his decision to join the banned group, his training in infiltration and ambush tactics at LeT camps and his LeT handler, the elusive Sajid Mir.
Frontline, a programme of American public broadcaster PBS, was given exclusive access to a draft of Headley’s memoir, which offers a unique window into his turn toward extremism and his preparations for a planned attack on a Danish newspaper that published controversial cartoons of Prophet Mohammed.
By 2005, LeT had finalised plans for using Headley for an attack in India. Though he was trained in explosives, the LeT asked him to change the name given to him by his Pakistani father and American mother, Daood Gilani, so that he could not easily be tracked by intelligence agencies. He chose David, English for Daood; Coleman, which was his grandfather’s name; and Headley, which was his mother’s maiden name.
“Finally, in June, my immediate superior, Sajid Mir, instructed me to return to the United States, change my Muslim name to a Christian sounding name and get a new US passport under that name. He now informed me I would be going to India, since I looked nothing like a Pakistani in appearance and spoke fluent Hindi and Urdu it would give me a distinct advantage in India,” Headley wrote.
In 2007, Headley was conducting regular reconnaissance of targets in Mumbai. On one trip, he checked into the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel, which would be the epicenter of the attacks, with his second wife for a “honeymoon.” As he cased locations on his trips to the city, Headley made “extensive video” recordings.
“The plan was to capture an Indian fishing vessel, which constantly strayed into Pakistani waters, and commandeer it all the way to Mumbai. The hope was that the Indian Coast Guard would not notice an Indian vessel. The boys would carry a GPS device which would guide them directly to the landing site, I had selected earlier,” he wrote.
Headley also wrote that he decided to join the LeT “full time” following the 9/11 attacks in the US. By 2002, the group asked him to take the “Daura Aamma” or basic military training course. It was one of several training programs he has written about.
In one section, Headley recalled the second course he attended: “We hid most of the day in caves and under trees, while we were given instructions on various lessons. Most of the practical aspects of the lessons were carried out at night. During this course, I was trained in infiltration, survival, camouflage, raid/ambush tactics, hide out, hiding and retrieving weapons caches, more than a dozen night marches, target practice with AK-47 and 9 mm pistol, RPG, grenades, among other training. We also went through an extensive indoctrination process and were required to study many Quaranic Chapters and Hadith.”
Headley, who stood out with his one blue eye and one brown eye, has also written about his first contact with LeT militants in 2000.
“On one of my trips (to Pakistan), October 2000, I made my first contact with Lashkar-e-Taiba (LT), quite by accident. I attended their annual convection in November. I was very impressed with their dedication to the cause of the liberation of Kashmir from Indian occupation,” he wrote.
Earlier, after serving a sentence for drug trafficking, Headley decided to turn over a new leaf in 1999. “To make amends for my unrighteous ways I worked…for the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA)…I had spent the past fifteen years frequenting the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) of Pakistan, on heroin procuring expeditions. This lawless land had remained the same, frozen in time, since the 18th century,” he wrote.
“The British had thought it wise to leave this place alone during their rule of India. I started leaning more and more on my religion as part of my change. I had not been a practicing Muslim the past fifteen years, but the seeds of Islam sown in me by my father and in school had never completely died out. Another change I made was to break away from my Canadian girlfriend, who I had been planning to marry for the past five years, and agree to an arranged marriage in Pakistan. Still on probation, I kept visiting Pakistan four times a year, without the knowledge of the DEA or my Probation Officer, to see my new wife, who I had decided to keep in Pakistan.”
After the Mumbai attacks, which killed 166 people, including six Americans, Headley began working on another plot, this time for al Qaeda, to assault the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten that published controversial caricatures of Prophet Mohammed.
Headley conducted reconnaissance for the mission until he was arrested by the FBI at O’Hare airport in 2009.
“This paper had published a cartoon of the Prophet Muhammad and was on the top of the hit list for al Qaeda. The Major told me that the leadership desired the attack to be carried out ASAP on the Newspaper Head Office. I visited Copenhagen in January 2009 and conducted detailed surveillance of the office there as well as their location in Arhus. I was able to make entry into both locations…,” he wrote.
“A few days later he took me to North Waziristan, where I met Ilyas Kashmiri, the al Qaeda number four. He gave me a further pep talk on the Denmark Project, saying that, both, Osama bin Laden and Ayman Zawahiri had stressed upon him the need to conclude this matter quickly. I agreed and assured him of my best effort.”