Inspired by Hafeez Saeed, Headley meticulously planned 26/11 attacks

  • Presley Thomas, Hindustan Times, Mumbai
  • Updated: Feb 08, 2016 15:38 IST
David Headley was one of the masterminds behind the 26/11 Mumbai terror strikes that left 166 people dead. (Hindustan Times)

Born to a Pakistani father and an American mother in June 1960, Daood Gilani or David Coleman Headley spent his early days in Pakistan’s Attock district. He studied at the Cadet College Hasan Abdal till his parents separated, and he relocated to the United States with his mother Serril Headley.

With his mother running a pub called Khyber Pass, Headley studied accounting at a community college in Philadelphia, and later operated a video store, Fliks Video, at Center City, New York which he ran along with his mother. But Headley’s life changed during one of his many visits to his native country Pakistan.

As it happened: LeT taught me India is enemy of Islam: Headley’s revelations on 26/11

Headley, who used to visit Qadisiya Mosque in Lahore, saw a Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) poster which sought funds to fight ‘Jihad’ or ‘Holy War’ in India in 1998. The poster touched Headley, and he called the LeT’s office based at Model Town in Lahore to make a donation of Rs 50,000 (Pakistani currency).

A request from Abid, an LeT operative who then took the money from Headley and is now believed to be settled in Spain, to attend LeT chief Hafeez Saeed’s lecture fast-tracked his entry into the world of terrorism.

Saeed’s quoted a Hadith which said ‘ a moment spent in Jihad gives you much more sawaab (reward) than the millions of namaz offered in Kaaba and that too on the night of Iailat-ur-Qadr (a pious night of Ramadan). The quote had considerable influence on Headley.

Headley met Hafeez Saeed on subsequent visits to Pakistan in 1999 and 2000, and decided to join the LeT cadre in 2001.

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Read more about Headley’s revelations on 26/11

After undergoing a number of three-week and two-week training programmes to learn Islamic preaching, handle weapons, conduct reconnaissance and surveillance at Daura-e-Sufa, Daura-e-Aam, Daura-e-Khaas, Daura-e-Ribat, Bait-ul-Rizwan and Daura-e-Tadribul Musaleentraining camps in Pakistan, between 2002 and 2004, Headley’s wait to wage war against India finally ended in 2005.

Read more:Headley reveals he changed name, visited India 8 times prior to 26/11

A quick name change in the US from Daood Gilani to David Coleman Headley ensured nobody suspected him in India. Armed with his mother-in-law’s camera, two credit cards, 3 to 4 thousand US dollars, Headley landed in Mumbai on September 14, 2006.

Bashir, a local contact that fellow accused and friend Tawahhur Rana had talked to, received Headley at the airport, and assured him a room at Hotel Outram in South Mumbai.

Read more: David Headley: From a video store operator in NY to 26/11 accused

During his stay till December 14, 2006, Headley extensively photographed and videographed places like the BMC building, Haji Ali, Gateway of India, the Taj Mahal hotel, Apollo Bunder, state police headquarters, DN Road, Azad Maidan among others.

Headley returned to Pakistan and handed over the photographs and video tapes to Major Iqbal, one of his ISI handlers, and later to Sajid Majid alias Wasi, one of the key conspirators of the 26/11 Mumbai terrorist attack.

Headley then made a short trip to India on February 21, 2007, and with a local help got a new SIM card and also activated an internet account in a Reliance cyber café.

He left India on March 15, 2007, only to come back five days later with his wife Faiza and made bookings at the Taj Mahal and Trident Hotels. After conducting necessary reconnaissance of the hotels and areas nearby, Headley left India on May 15, 2007 for Dubai.

After staying with his wife and children for three days in Dubai, Headley once again entered India on May 20, 2007. Though it wasn’t a productive reconnaissance trip, Headley went back to Pakistan and handed over the general photographs he had taken on Mumbai to Major Iqbal and Sajid.

Before his fifth visit to India, top LeT commander Abdur Rehman requested Headley to conduct surveillance of the National Defence College (NDC) in Delhi and Major Iqbal asked Headley to get him all information about Pune.

Headley boarded a flight from Lahore to Delhi in September 2007, and after conducting a quick reconnaissance of the NDC , reached Mumbai on September 4, 2007.

This was one of his most crucial visits, where he extensively photographed Hotel Taj, Shiv Sena Bhavan and visited the guards posted outside Bal Thackeray’s house. He then went to Mumbai, and conducted reconnaissance of army installations in the city. A quick visit to Lahore for Eid, and Headley returned to the city for more. Till the end of this visit, LeT had plans of only attacking the Taj Mahal hotel.

When he went back to Pakistan, and handed over the video footage he had collected, Headley learnt the LeT was under tremendous pressure to launch a spectacular attack against India, as disgruntled fighters were leaving the terrorist organisation.

With specific instructions to check for landing sites in Mumbai, with a plan to launch LeT terrorists through sea, Headley visited India once again in 2008. He booked a room at Hotel Outram, and later conducted surveillance of the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC), and took boat rides from Colaba to spot landing points.

On April 11, 2008, Headley’s visit to Cuffe Parade – Badhwar Park assured him an early morning boat ride the next day. Headley identified the landing spot as perfect, and plotted it on the Global Positioning Device he was carrying. After handing over the sinister design to his handlers in Pakistan, Headley spent some time in America, before returning to India on July 1, 2008.

Headley had walked into Mumbai to finalise the surveillance of the Taj Mahal hotel, Naval Air Station, Police headquarters, State Assembly building, El Al Airlines office, Siddhi Vinayak Temple, Chabad House and Mumbai Stock Exchange.

He also covered the Blue Synagogue, CBI office, Leopold restaurant, Colaba police station, Delhi Darbar, Israeli Consulate, DN Road and Trident Hotel. It was during this visit that Headley purchased the saffron wrist bands from Siddhivinayak Temple that Mohamed Ajmal Amir Kasab and his fellow attackers were wearing. He plotted all the locations on his GPS, and handed it over to Sajid. Headley had also thought about an egress option for the attackers, and had discussed it with his handlers in Pakistan. Headley who discussed the attack plans, and was in the know of Mumbai 26/11 terrorist attack, was later assigned for the Denmark project. He made his last trip to India in March 2009 and conducted extensive reconnaissance of Chabad Houses in India, and other vital installations across New Delhi, Goa, Pushkar and Pune.

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