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David Headley, the man who mapped Mumbai for LeT attack

Lashkar-e-Taiba had attempted to attack Mumbai twice before 26/11, but had failed on both occasions, Headley told the court via video conference.

mumbai Updated: Nov 05, 2018 09:04 IST
Megha Sood
Megha Sood
Hindustan Times
Born to a Pakistani father and an American mother in June 1960, Headley spent his early days in Pakistan’s Attock district in Punjab.(PTI)

The terror attack on Mumbai on November 26, 2008, a military-style operation planned and executed from Pakistan, relied heavily upon the reconnaissance ability of one man – the Pakistani-turned-American David Coleman Headley, alias Daood Gilani.

In 2016, eight years after one of the worst terror attacks on India, Headley turned approver in the case and deposed in a Mumbai court from an undisclosed location in the United States where he had already been convicted and sentenced to a 35-year prison term by a Chicago court for his role in the same attack. Headley was 52 years old at the time.

Although Indian agencies had gleaned useful information from Ajmal Kasab – the lone terrorist to be captured alive on November 26, 2008 at Marine Drive – and other sources such as intercepted conversations, it was Headley’s deposition to a court in Mumbai in February 2016 that laid bare the extent of the attack. Lashkar-e-Taiba had attempted to attack Mumbai twice before 26/11, but had failed on both occasions, he told the court via video conference. He confessed that he had joined LeT after being influenced by the speeches of its leader Hafiz Saeed, the 26/11 mastermind.

Born to a Pakistani father and an American mother in June 1960, Headley spent his early days in Pakistan’s Attock district in Punjab. It was upon his parents’ separation that he relocated to the US with his mother Serril Headley, who ran a pub in Philadelphia.

Headley began studying at a community college there and later operated a video store – Fliks Video – with his mother in New York. But his life would take a turn for the evil during a visit to Pakistan in 1998, when he saw an LeT poster calling for funds to “fight jihad against India”. He called up the LeT office in Model Town, Lahore, and donated 50,000 Pakistani rupees.

There, he met Saeed, head of the now-renamed Jama’at-ud-Da’wah, a UN-designated terrorist organisation. Headley joined LeT in 2001 and participated in various training camps in Pakistan between 2002 and 2004.

Headley changed his name in the US so that he would not be viewed with suspicion in India. According to his statement, Headley, armed with his mother-in-law’s camera, two credit cards, and US$4,000, landed in Mumbai on September 14, 2006. For three months, Headley photographed and videographed the BMC headquarters, Haji Ali, Gateway of India, the Taj Mahal Hotel, and the state police headquarters. He handed over visual documentation to one Major Iqbal, his ISI handler, and to Sajid Mir, a key 26/11 conspirator.

Headley made another trip to India in February 2007 and procured a new SIM card. He left India on March 15, 2007, only to return five days later with his wife Faiza. They booked rooms at the Taj and the Trident. After a reconnaissance of the hotels and surrounding areas, he left for Dubai on May 15, 2007.

After spending three days there, he returned to India on May 20, 2007. Though this wasn’t a productive reconnaissance trip, Headley travelled to Pakistan and handed over the photos he had taken of various Mumbai landmarks to Major Iqbal and Sajid. The 26/11 terrorists relied on this reconnaissance to ensure that they don’t get lost while the terror operation was on.

Headley returned to Delhi in September 2007, and after a quick reconnaissance of the National Defence College, arrived in Mumbai on September 4.

It was during this visit that he extensively photographed the Taj Mahal Hotel and Shiv Sena Bhavan, and even visited the guards posted outside Sena leader Bal Thackeray’s house in Bandra. After a quick visit to Lahore for Eid, Headley returned to Mumbai for more.

With specific instructions to check for landing sites in Mumbai, Headley visited India once again in 2008. He conducted surveillance of the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre and took boat rides from Colaba to various potential landing points. On April 11, 2008, Headley visited Badhwar Park at Cuffe Parade. He found it to be the ideal landing spot and marked it on his GPS device. After passing on the information to his handlers in Pakistan, he spent some time in the US before returning to India on July 1, 2008.

On this visit, he went to the Taj again, and then the police headquarters, the state legislature building, the El-Al Airlines office, Siddhivinayak temple, Chabad House and Bombay Stock Exchange, among other places.

It was during this visit that he bought the saffron wristbands from Siddhivinayak temple that Ajmal Kasab and his nine fellow attackers wore during the attacks.

First Published: Nov 05, 2018 00:19 IST