By John McCormick and Andrew M. Harris
March 18 (Bloomberg) — David Coleman Headley pleaded guilty in federal court in Chicago to helping plan the November 2008 terror attacks in Mumbai and an assault on a Danish newspaper that wasn’t carried out. Headley, 49, entered his plea today before U.S. District Judge Harry D. Leinenweber, admitting to all 12 counts against him, including conspiracy to bomb sites in India, aiding and abetting in the murder of Americans there and providing material support to terrorists.
“That’s right, your honor,” Headley, a Chicago resident, said when asked whether he was part of plots to kill people. Headley is required by his plea agreement to cooperate with the U.S. government as well as in prosecutions in other countries. Federal prosecutors said they won’t seek the death penalty in the case when Headley is sentenced “after the conclusion of his cooperation.”
Leinenweber told Headley that he could face a life sentence, although prosecutors have agreed to ask the court for an unspecified departure from the sentencing guidelines. In January, prosecutors announced the indictment of Headley and three other men, all of whom were accused of conspiring to attack Morgenavisen Jyllands-Posten, the newspaper that in 2005 printed a set of cartoons by the artist Kurt Westergaard including one showing the Islamic prophet Muhammad with a bomb in his turban. Depictions of the prophet are forbidden in that faith. Publication of the Westergaard cartoons touched off protests in Muslim communities worldwide.
Headley allegedly scouted targets in Denmark and in Mumbai, where the attacks over three days left 164 people dead, including six Americans. He pleaded guilty to providing material support to Lashkar e Taiba, a Pakistani group seeking to separate the state of Jammu and Kashmir from India. Lashkar was designated a foreign terrorist organization by the U.S. in 2001. Headley admitted attending training camps operated by the group on five separate occasions from 2002 to 2005, prosecutors said in a statement. Headley made five trips to Mumbai from September 2006 to July 2008, each time making videotapes of various potential targets, including those attacked in November 2008, according to his plea agreement. Landing Sites Before an April 2008 surveillance trip, Headley met with co-conspirators in Pakistan and discussed potential landing sites in Mumbai for a team of attackers, prosecutors said. Headley returned to Mumbai with a global positioning system device and took boat trips around the Mumbai harbor and entered various locations into the device, according to the plea agreement. While in India, Headley conducted video surveillance of sites including the Taj Mahal Hotel, the Oberoi Hotel, a cafe and a train station, all of which were later attacked, according to the plea agreement. Those in the courtroom today were required to go through metal detectors and have their possessions searched, a second screening of the kind required to enter the courthouse.
U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald, whose office in Chicago is prosecuting the case, appeared in court for the guilty plea. Attorney General Eric Holder called the plea a “crucial step forward.” “Working with our domestic and international partners, we will not rest until all those responsible for the Mumbai attacks and the terror plot in Denmark are held accountable,” Holder said in the statement. “Not only has the criminal justice system achieved a guilty plea in this case, but David Headley is now providing us valuable intelligence about terrorist activities.”
Headley, who had faced possible execution for causing the deaths of U.S. nationals, pleaded not guilty before a federal magistrate in Chicago on Jan. 27. By that time, prosecutors and his lawyer, John Theis, had said he was cooperating with the U.S. government. “We think it’s important to note that from the day of his arrest, he began cooperating with the government and provided substantial assistance in the investigation of this case and provided significant, critical information regarding intelligence on other matters,” Robert Seeder, an attorney for Headley, said after today’s hearing. Headley cooperated with the government for 13 days, without assistance of lawyers, after he was arrested even though he had been advised that he had a right to remain silent, Seeder said. Headley’s disclosures helped the U.S. and other countries, Seeder said. Lives Saved “We believe it is fair to say that his cooperation has potentially saved the lives of hundreds, if not thousands, of people,” Seeder said. “And his cooperation is going to continue throughout the remainder of this case.”
A U.S. citizen and son of an American mother and Pakistani father, Headley was born Daood Gilani. He changed his name in 2006 to disguise his parentage before traveling to India that year, prosecutors said. He and Tahawwur Rana, a Chicago-area businessman, were arrested by federal authorities in October and charged separately for their roles in the newspaper plot. Rana, a Canadian citizen who ran an immigration services business with offices in Chicago, New York and Toronto, is accused of helping Headley travel to Denmark and India. He pleaded not guilty on Jan. 25 and is being held without bail.
According to Headley’s plea agreement, Rana was to open Mumbai office of his First World immigration services company to “provide a cover story” for his activities in that city. Rana also allegedly coached Headley on how to apply for a visa for his journeys to India. Rana’s lawyer, Patrick Blegen of Chicago, didn’t immediately return voice-mail messages seeking comment on those details of Headley’s plea agreement. Two other men who aren’t in U.S. custody were indicted with Rana and Headley for their roles in the Denmark plan. They are Ilyas Kashmiri, who prosecutors identified as an “influential” Pakistani terrorist leader with ties to the al-Qaeda network, and retired Pakistani military officer Abdur Rehman Hashim Syed. Kashmiri told Headley he had met with a European contact who could provide him with money, weapons and manpower for the attack on the Danish newspaper, according to the plea agreement. “Kashmiri directed the defendant to meet with this European contact, and relate Kashmiri’s instructions that this should be a suicide attack and that the attackers should prepare martyrdom videos beforehand,” prosecutors said in the agreement. “Among other details, Kashmiri stated that the attackers should behead captives and throw their heads out of the newspaper building in order to heighten the response from Danish authorities.”
The case is U.S. v. Kashmiri, 09-cr-00830, U.S. District Court, Northern District of Illinois (Chicago).
David Coleman Headley, formerly known as Daood Sayed Gilani, (born June 30, 1960) is a Pakistani American businessman based in Chicago, who has pleaded guilty to involvement with terrorism. He changed his name to hide his Muslim identity.
Gilani was born in Washington, D. C., where his father, Sayed Salim Gilani, worked for the Voice of America, and his mother, Serrill Headley, was a secretary. Danyal Gilani, spokesman for the Prime Minister of Pakistan, Yousaf Raza Gillani, is Headley’s half brother. When his parents broke up their marriage, Sayed Gilani went back to Pakistan, taking Daood and his sister with him. There Daood attended the Cadet College Hasan Abdal, a preparatory boys’ high school for the military. In 1977 his mother traveled to Pakistan and brought him to live with her in the United States, where he grew up. Serril Headley owned Khyber Pass, a pub in Philadelphia, and died in 2008. In 1985 he married a Pennsylvania State University student, but they divorced in 1987 due to cultural conflicts.
Gilani ran a video store in Philadelphia. In 1998 he was convicted of conspiring to smuggle heroin into the country from Pakistan. After his arrest, he provided much information about his Pakistani drug contacts and got less than two years in jail. He later went to Pakistan to conduct undercover surveillance operations for the Drug Enforcement Administration. In 2002 and three times in 2003, he attended Lashkar-e-Taiba training camps in Pakistan.
In 2006, he changed his name to David Headley so as to make border crossings between the United States and other countries easier. He moved his family to Chicago, where he claimed to work for Rana‘s immigration agency. Rana had been in the Cadet College Hasan Abdal with him.
Accusations by the FBI, and guilty plea
David Coleman Headley, 48, and Tahawwur Hussain Rana, 48, were accused by U.S. federal authorities in Chicago, in complaints unsealed on October 27, 2009, of plotting against the employees of a newspaper in Copenhagen. Headley is accused of traveling to Denmark to scout the building of the Jyllands-Posten newspaper, and a nearby Synagogue, for an attack by terrorists.
On December 8, 2009, the FBI additionally accused Headley of conspiring to bomb targets in Mumbai, India; providing material support to Lashkar-i-Taiba, a militant Pakistani Islamist group; and aiding and abetting the murder of U.S. citizens in the 2008 Mumbai attacks. Headley pleaded guilty to all charges on March 18, 2010.
Accusations by India’s NIA
India’s new National Investigation Agency (NIA) registered a case against Headley and Rana for allegedly plotting terror attacks in India, and Indian authorities are gathering evidence to charge him for involvement in the 2008 Mumbai attacks.
Associations with Pakistani ex-military officers
Both Headley and Rana are accused in the complaints of reporting to Ilyas Kashmiri, an Islamist militant commander associated with both Al Qaeda and Lashkar-e-Taiba. Kashmiri is a former Pakistani military officer.
Another former military officer is suspected as a co-conspirator and identified only by a pseudonym (Individual A) in the first FBI complaint against Headley. He is said to have recently left the Pakistani Army as a Colonel or Brigadier. This second officer, suspected in the complaint as affiliated with Lashkar-e-Taiba, was arrested in 2009 in Pakistan on unspecified charges and later released. He was identified by the FBI in December 2009 as Abdur Rehman Hashim Syed. Abdur Rehman, also known as “Pasha”, is also wanted by the FBI.
An Associated Press story on November 24, 2009 said that five Pakistan army officers, including a retired brigadier and two active lieutenant colonels, had been detained for questioning in Pakistan. They had all been in telephone contact with Headley. But the next day, Pakistan military spokesman Athar Abbas said that “security agencies” had only detained a single former army major in connection with the FBI case.
Association with Lashkar-e-Taiba
Another individual named in the complaint as “LeT member A”, a member of Lashkar-e-Taiba, gave instructions to Headley on which locations to scout for future attacks, including both the Danish newspaper and locations in India, such as the National Defense College in New Delhi. Indian intelligence officials believe that LeT member A is Sajid Mir, Lashkar’s head of international operations. Sajid Mir was a ranking member of the Pakistani army until several years ago, and attended the same military high school, with Headley and Rana.
Court documents allege that Headley corresponded with the Lashkar-e-Taiba associates in coded messages about the “Mickey Mouse Project,” code for the plot against the Danish newspaper. After his visit to Denmark in 2009, Headley allegedly traveled to Pakistan to meet with the LeT associate. After his arrest in October 2009, Headley told federal agents that he received training from LeT.
Participation in 2008 Mumbai attacks
Headley is accused of traveling multiple times to India to scout locations for terrorist attacks on behalf of Lashkar-e-Taiba. Information he retrieved from his visits to Mumbai, including video footage, was used to execute the 2008 Mumbai attacks.
Visits to India
Headley posed as a Jew to scout the Jewish center at Nariman House for attack. Suspected members of LeT tortured and killed six people at the Jewish center during the Mumbai attacks. Headley made multiple visits to India before and after the 2008 Mumbai attacks, while Rana visited it only once.
A Moroccan woman, Faiza Outalha, believed to be Headley’s wife, visited India twice: in 2007 she flew to Mumbai from Karachi and stayed with Headley in the Taj Mahal Hotel and the Oberoi Trident, both of which were targets in the 2008 Mumbai attacks. In 2008 she crossed from Pakistan via the road at Wagah and spent time in Manali. They later divorced.
Ease of entry and movement
Indian investigators were surprised at how easily Headley had obtained a visa to enter India, a process that is extremely difficult for Pakistani nationals. Headley’s U.S. passport, his new Christian sounding name, and the fact that the passport and his visa application made no mention of his prior name or nationality, made it easy for him to obtain an Indian visa from the Indian consulate in Chicago. He also falsely stated on his visa application that his father’s name was William Headley and that his own name at birth was “Headley”, a claim that was difficult to refute since the U.S. passport, unlike the Indian one, does not provide the father’s name, and does not require endorsements on name changes by the passport holder.
Speculation: double agent
Some Indian analysts have alleged that David Headley may be a CIA Double agent within LeT, an accusation rubbished by the CIA. Indian investigators want the FBI to share its tapes of Headley’s communications with his Pakistani handlers to match with the voices taped on cell phones during the 2008 Mumbai attacks.
Claims relating to the 2010 Pune German Bakery blast
In relation to the 2010 Pune blast at the German bakery that killed fifteen people out of which 4 were foreigners and injured at least 53 people, Indian Home Secretary, G. K. Pillai and the Hindustan Times referred to Headley. The Hindustan Times stated that Headley had visited Pune in July 2008 and March 2009 and referred to him as a Lashkar-e-Taiba member. The Hindustan Times also reported that the CCTV footage which as been accessed by the Investigating agency, can, as per The Hindustan Times, help solve the mystery. The Times of India has also reported similar reports, along with The Telegraph, The Hindu, The Pioneer and also Indian Express.
- Michael Finton, American convert to Islam, attempted September 2009 bombing of U.S. target with FBI agent he thought was al-Qaeda member
- Sharif Mobley, American suspected al-Qaeda member, arrested in Yemen in 2010 and suspected of killing guard in escape attempt
- Aafia Siddiqui, alleged al-Qaeda member, former U.S. resident, convicted in 2010 of attempting to kill U.S. personnel
- Bryant Neal Vinas, American convert to Islam, convicted in 2009 of participating in/supporting Al-Qaeda plots in Afghanistan and the U.S.
- Najibullah Zazi, al-Qaeda member, U.S. resident, pleaded guilty in 2010 of planning suicide bombings on New York City subway system
- Detention of five Americans in Pakistan (Dec. 2009)
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