The Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) planned to attack the famous Siddhivinayak temple and a conference of defence scientists at an iconic Mumbai hotel a year before it targeted India’s financial capital in 2008, the outfit’s operative David Coleman Headley told a city court on Tuesday.
The US citizen of Pakistani descent also said spy agency ISI provides support to a slew of militant groups including the LeT, strengthening India’s allegations of the Pakistani establishment backing extremists.
The 56-year-old told the court that he conducted surveillance of multiple targets in the city including the Siddhivinayak Temple at Dadar and the state police headquarters at Colaba.
“Sajid Mir (Headley’s LeT handler) had specifically asked me to take video footage of Siddhivinayak Temple,” he said.
Headley said he too worked for the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency that provided “financial, moral and military support to the LeT”, special public prosecutor Ujjwal Nikam told reporters on the second day of Headley’s deposition via video link.
The LeT operative, who was jailed for 35 years in 2013 by a US court for plotting the strike, said the ISI also provided support to other militant groups such as the Hizbul Mujahideen as well as the Jaish-e-Mohammad, which is suspected to have carried out last month’s attack on Punjab’s Pathankot airbase.
“I have no direct knowledge, but it is my assessment that the terrorist organisations in Pakistan and the intelligence agency coordinate with each other,” he told additional sessions judge GA Sanap, clarifying that his assessment was based on what he observed in Pakistan and what he heard from people around him back there.
He said the LeT had planned to attack Hotel Taj Mahal Palace in south Mumbai in 2007 when a conference of Indian defence scientists was scheduled to be held there.
The US national said the plan was dropped, probably for logistical reasons. “There were some problems in getting personnel and ordinance to the hall,” he said after Nikam sought an elaborate answer, adding that he had taken photographs and video of the conference hall when he stayed in the hotel in April 2007 along with his second wife, Faiza.
Headley said ISI officer Brigadier Riyaz was the handler of LeT leader and 26/11 mastermind Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi, a day after he told the court that he was a “true follower” of the terrorist group. When shown a photograph of Lakhvi, Headley identified him.
The Mumbai attacks that lasted three days and left 166 people dead have been a consistent source of acrimony between India and Pakistan as New Delhi has called for Islamabad to bring the masterminds to justice.
Pakistan’s government has technically banned the LeT but a number of its leaders, including Hafiz Saeed and Lakhvi, remain free.
Replying to a question from Nikam, Headley said he was not being paid by the LeT and he was earning handsome amounts from his “businesses” in the US while he had invested in real estate in the UAE.
He also said the LeT, Jaish-e-Mohammed, Hizbul Mujahideen and Harkat-ul-Mujahideen are all part of the United Jihad Council based in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK).
(With agency inputs)