Testimony: Mumbai happened after two botched bids, says David Headley

Published: February 9, 2016
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The November 2008 attacks, which India has blamed on Lashkar-e-Taiba, left 166 people dead and more than 300 wounded. PHOTO: AFP/FILE

The November 2008 attacks, which India has blamed on Lashkar-e-Taiba, left 166 people dead and more than 300 wounded. PHOTO: AFP/FILE

NEW DEHLI: A Pakistani-American who helped plot the deadly November 2008 attacks in Mumbai told a court on Monday that militants had made at least two failed attempts to attack the Indian city before succeeding a third time to kill 166 people.

David Headley, who was sentenced in 2013 by a Chicago court to 35 years in a US prison for his role in the atrocity, confirmed that the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) had a role in the attack.

“He (Headley) has confirmed that he joined Lashkar-e-Taiba after being influenced by Hafiz Saeed,” Headley’s lawyer Mahesh Jethmalani told reporters after the 55-year-old appeared before the Mumbai court via a video link from the US. “He told the court that two unsuccessful attempts to carry out terror attacks were also made before 26/11.”

However, Headley did not explain the exact role of LeT in attacks.

India has long blamed the LeT for coordinated attacks on November 26, 2008 when at least 10 gunmen rampaged through luxury hotels, the main railway station, a Jewish centre and other sites in the country’s financial capital as they killed 166 people and wounded at least 308.

The attacks, which lasted for three days, have been a consistent source of acrimony between India and Pakistan as New Delhi has called for Islamabad to bring the alleged masterminds to justice.

Headley, 55, was giving evidence to a special Indian court from an undisclosed location in America — the first time a ‘foreign terrorist’ has done so before an Indian court. The court is trying suspected plotter Sayed Zabiuddin Ansari, also known as Abu Jundal.

The court had on December 10, 2015, agreed to make Headley an approver in the case granting him a pardon in exchange for his testimony.

During Monday’s hearing, Headley more or less repeated what he had told a US court — that he had met with a man called Sajid Mir of the LeT, changed his name, got a new passport and visited Mumbai seven times. He added that he carried out reconnaissance as sought by his handler.

Indian public prosecutor Ujjwal Nikam, who questioned Headley for five hours on Monday, said afterwards that the convicted terrorist had revealed meeting a “Major Iqbal” and “Mr Ali” who were allegedly working for a Pakistani intelligence agency.

He then spent two years researching sites, even taking boat tours around the city’s harbour and befriending Bollywood stars as part of his cover.

In addition to reconnaissance in India, Headley said he had been told to make contact with a drug smuggler named Zaid Shah who then used his connections to smuggle weapons from Pakistan to India.

Talking about his arrest, he said that he and another Pakistani Abdur Rehman Pasha were arrested from Landi Kotal near the Pakistan-Afghan border because he looked like a foreigner.

Giving details of those who had helped him in the US, Headley said that Raymond Sanders at the immigration law centre in Chicago had helped him get a visa to India from the Indian Embassy based on fake information and the reference of Tahawwur Hussain Rana, Headley’s school friend.

Published in The Express Tribune, February 9th,  2016.

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