The Lashkar-e-Taiba tried to kill Shiv Sena founder Bal Thackeray but the assassin assigned was caught, though he later slipped out of police custody, the militant group’s Pakistani-American operative David Coleman Headley said on Thursday.
The 56-year-old, who was arrested in Chicago for his role in the 26/11 Mumbai carnage, disclosed via video link from a US prison that he visited the Sena headquarters twice during sorties to India to pick possible targets for the LeT.
“I believe an attempt was made on the life of the Shiv Sena chief ... The man who made the attempt had escaped from police custody,” Headley told the special court of additional sessions judge GA Sanap. “LeT wanted to target Thackeray. They wanted to kill him wherever they could find him in Mumbai.”
India blames the Pakistan-based group for the coordinated attacks on November 26, 2008 when ten gunmen stormed luxury hotels, a railway station, a Jewish centre and other landmarks in the financial capital.
The court pardoned Headley in December on condition that he testify. The decision does not affect his 35-year prison sentence in the US.
Headley said he did not have first-hand knowledge, but was informed that the LeT conspired to kill Thackeray and there was an attempt.
His replies came on the second day of his cross-examination by lawyer Abdul Wahab Khan, the defence counsel for Sayed Zabiuddin Ansari, alias Abu Jundal, who is facing trial for the 26/11 attacks that killed over 160 people.
“I do not know which year but an attempt was made and the person escaped from jail,” Headley told the judge.
Thackeray founded the right-wing Shiv Sena that has often taken a critical stand against Pakistan and Pakistani nationals. He died in 2012.
When special public prosecutor Ujjwal Nikam questioned him on February 12, Headley confirmed the LeT’s plot to eliminate Thackeray, but said nothing on an unsuccessful bid and the attacker fleeing from authorities.
Headley, the son of a former Pakistani diplomat, also said the expenses he incurred while researching targets was paid by Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency.
He got into a verbal spat with Khan when the lawyer persistently questioned him about his wife Shazia, his former wife Faiza and their knowledge of the attacks.
“Headley’s wife was talking to him in code language. She said the ‘cartoon’ (terror attack) is doing well; it did well the whole day,” Khan told the media. “Headley said that his wife, Shazia, congratulated him on the success of 26/11 in code language.”
Headley told the court on Wednesday that he was arrested by American officials in 1988 and 1998 on charges of drug trafficking and that after his second arrest, the Drug Enforcement Authority (DEA) of the US financed his trip to Pakistan.
He also dismissed reports that he got money from the LeT. “I never received money from LeT ... This is complete nonsense. I gave funds to LeT ... throughout the period I was associated with them,” he said. “My last donation was in 2006.”
With agency inputs