'Rana's sentence a tough message to terrorists'
Pakistani-American David Coleman Headley, a key conspirator in the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks that killed 166, was sentenced to 35 years in jail by a Chicago court.
The judgment was delivered to a packed court room amid unprecedented security. A stone-faced Headley and some 26/11 survivors were present.
An American survivor, who took a bullet in her thigh during the Mumbai carnage, looked Headley in the eye and said she sees him as Dawood Gilani, not David Coleman Headley.
District judge Harry D Leinenber observed that he did not believe Headley when he said he was a changed man.
Headley, who provided vital assistance to Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), escaped life imprisonment, a development likely to disappoint the Indian government, which has for long sought his extradition.
A day prior to his sentencing, US federal prosecutors had sought only 30 to 35 years in prison, citing ''significant cooperation'' in the US government's efforts to combat terrorism.
The Pakistani-born American terrorist, who changed his name from Dawood Gilani to David Coleman Headley — to avoid arousing suspicion of Indian immigration authorities — visited Mumbai several times on an American passport, to videograph key targets.
Headley had also chosen the spot where Ajmal Kasab and nine other associates would land in Budhwar Park in Colaba, Mumbai on 26/11.
Accused of providing material support to the LeT and of conspiring to kill and maim persons in India, Headley had pleaded guilty to 12 charges relating to his role in the Mumbai attacks as well as an abortive attack on a Danish newspaper office. The paper had published cartoons of Prophet Mohammed.
A day earlier, Gary Shapiro, the acting US attorney in Chicago, had in a memo said Headley played an essential role in the planning of the horrific terrorist attack in Mumbai, also that he “not only worked at the direction of Lashkar-e-Taiba for years, but also with members of al Qaeda”.
India had strongly opposed Headley's plea bargain, for that ruled out both the death penalty as well as his extradition to India or Denmark.
Known to have been an agent for US drug enforcement administration, a role that often took him to Pakistan — where he is suspected to have made contact with the LeT, unknown to his American masters — sections of the Indian government have maintained that the US did not come clear on Headley's entire past.
Headley's Moroccan wife, Faiza Outalha, is on record to have stated that she was not taken seriously when she tried alerting the American embassy in Islamabad about his suspicious activities. Outalha had accompanied Headley to Mumbai when they had checked into the Taj Hotel, an iconic symbol that came under severe attack on 26/11.
The government is likely to demand Headley's extradition once again, particularly because it is still seeking action against LeT founder Hafiz Saeed. “The Mumbai attacks were possible only because of the complete support of the ISI and Saeed,'' Headley had told the National Investigation Agency, when a team of officers had gone to interrogate him in Chicago.