As David Coleman Headley (49), the Lashkar-e-Tayyeba (LeT) operative accused of scouting potential sites for terrorist attacks in India, prepared to plead guilty in a Chicago court on Thursday, the security establishment in Delhi hinted that the duration of his sentence would be the acid test to determine whether he indeed had links with a US intelligence agency.
“A court order was docketed today scheduling David Coleman Headley for a change of plea hearing,” Randall Samborn, spokesman for the US Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Illinois, which is prosecuting the case, said.
Headley has been charged on 12 counts: six of conspiracy to bomb public places in India, and to provide material support to foreign terror plots and the LeT, and six counts of aiding, abetting the murder of US citizens in India (Americans were killed during 26/11). It is unclear if he will plead guilty to all 12 counts.
The change in stance is believed to have followed a plea bargain deal between the prosecution and Headley’s lawyer.
Also, Indian officials said, Headley’s statements to prosecutors appeared to have been covered under the ‘proffers agreement’ that would restrict using authorities from using the information he provided as evidence to indict him.
A senior government official in Delhi said if the sentence eventually handed out to him turned out to be very lenient, “it would confirm our suspicions that he may have been working for the Americans”.
Suspicions about Headley’s links with a US intelligence agency originate from his first brush with law enforcement agencies. He was arrested in 1998 for conspiring to smuggle heroin into the US from Pakistan. But he cooperated, got away with a two-year jail term and went to Pakistan to conduct surveillance operations for the Drug Enforcement Administration.
India believes he turned a double agent during this stint.