Journalism in the Public Interest


Confessed Terrorist Tried to Help U.S. Track Down Other Terrorists

David Coleman Headley testified Tuesday that he tried to help U.S. authorities lure a suspected mastermind of the 2008 Mumbai attacks out of Pakistan. He also said an al-Qaida-connected leader wanted to assassinate the head of Lockheed Martin.


A predator drone at the U.S. Air Force Museum (Flickr/outlan2000)

CHICAGO—Confessed terrorist David Coleman Headley was so eager to cooperate after his 2009 arrest that he worked with FBI agents to try to engineer the capture of a suspected mastermind of the 2008 Mumbai attacks and proposed setting up another kingpin for a missile strike, according to testimony in federal court Tuesday.

Headley, a Pakistani-American businessman who has pleaded guilty in the Mumbai case and a plot against Denmark, testified that during two weeks of interrogation in October 2009 he worked with FBI agents to try to lure Sajid Mir, a member of the Lashkar-i-Taiba militant group and a suspected mastermind of the Mumbai attack, out of Pakistan so he could be arrested. The attempt failed, Headley testified, and Mir remains a fugitive.

Headley also offered to travel undercover to the tribal areas of Pakistan and present Ilyas Kashmiri, an al-Qaida-connected leader indicted in the Denmark plot, with an ornate sword that Headley suggested could be outfitted with a homing device to set up a U.S. missile attack, according to his testimony.

Headley revealed Tuesday that Kashmiri wanted to assassinate the chief executive officer of the Lockheed Martin Corp, which he said manufactures the Predator drone, as retaliation for the missile strikes that have killed scores of militants in Pakistan. (Lockheed does not, in fact, make the Predator drone. But it does make the Hellfire missiles it uses.)

“Kashmiri was working on a plan,” Headley testified. “He said he knew people who had already done surveillance. And he asked if weapons were available in the U.S.”

Headley, who did not further describe the details of the plot, met with Kashmiri twice in Pakistan in 2009, according to his confession. Officials with the FBI and the Justice Department declined to comment on Headley’s mention of a plot targeting Lockheed CEO Robert J. Stevens. Lockheed officials also declined comment, citing a policy of not discussing specific threats against the company.

Kashmiri was behind a plan last fall to carry out Mumbai-style shooting attacks in Britain, France, Germany and Denmark, counter-terror officials say. Kashmiri has a far-flung network and is one of the most feared terrorist leaders today, especially in the vacuum left by the killing of Osama bin Laden. But it would be a new and troubling development if Kashmiri had directed operatives to work on a bona-fide plot to assassinate a prominent figure in the United States.

Tuesday was Headley‘s last day as the star witness against his boyhood friend Tahawwur Rana, who is charged with material support of terrorism for allegedly aiding Headley’s reconnaissance in Mumbai and Denmark. The trial has drawn international attention because of Headley’s account of a close alliance between Lashkar and Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate (ISI) and his allegations that Pakistani officers helped plan the Mumbai attacks, which killed 166 people, six of them Americans.

During cross-examination, Headley testified that he did not think the top brass of the Pakistani spy agency knew about the Mumbai plot, which he said was planned by his ISI handler, known only as Major Iqbal, in coordination with Lashkar chiefs.

“My belief is that all of ISI did not know,” Headley said. “I would imagine [Major Iqbal’s] colonel would know it. And the group he belonged to.”

That testimony tracks with Headley’s statement to Indian investigators last year that the director general of the ISI, Ahmed Suja Pasha, had been surprised by the attacks. Pasha visited Lashkar’s jailed military chief in 2009 to learn more about the plot, Headley told Indian investigators.

Pakistani officials deny any ISI involvement in the attacks. Some U.S. officials believe only a few mid-level Pakistani officers took part. But other U.S. officials—and Indian government leaders—have said the scope of the plot makes it hard to believe that top spymasters did not approve of the operation. Western counter-terror officials say the ISI’s leadership gives individual directorates considerable autonomy and that some retain close alliances with Lashkar and other militant networks.

Tuesday’s cross-examination featured excerpts of Headley’s videotaped interrogation by FBI agents after his arrest in October 2009. In contrast to his restrained demeanor on the stand, Headley was animated, almost frantic, as he told the agents he wanted to help them make arrests in the case, the video showed.

During the two-week interrogation after his arrest, he worked with the agents to communicate with Mir in a failed attempt to draw the suspected Lashkar mastermind out of Pakistan and enable his arrest, according to his testimony. He also offered up a German extremist he knew and proposed a rather fanciful scheme to set up Kashmiri for a missile strike by giving him a gift containing a homing device. Headley said he told the agents he knew he needed a “home run” or a “Hail Mary pass” because he was facing the death penalty.

Headley denied the defense’s assertion that, after insisting for days that Rana was innocent, he changed his story and falsely implicated his old friend out of desperation. He also endured a withering series of questions in which Patrick Blegen, Rana’s lawyer, accused him of lying repeatedly to prosecutors, judges, his wife, Rana and others during the case and in the past.

Although Headley had stated under oath that he had never been treated for a mental disorder, Blegen confronted him with evidence that he had undergone psychological treatment and been diagnosed in 1992 with mixed personality disorder. That condition combines symptoms of several disorders and generally involves difficulty in controlling impulses, using judgment and dealing with other people.

The prosecution is expected to wrap up its case against Rana tomorrow with testimony from FBI agents and civilian experts.

ProPublica’s Sergio Hernandez contributed to this report.

Correction (6/1): This post originally said that Headley was arrested last October. He was in fact arrested in October 2009.

(6/3): Wired magazine spotted an error in David Coleman Headley’s testimony. Headley said that the CEO of Lockheed Martin had been targeted for assassination, because Lockheed makes the drones that are used to kill terrorists in Pakistan. It turns out that General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, not Lockheed, makes the drones. Lockheed does, however, make the Hellfire missiles used by the drones.

Headley also stated that the ISI leadership didn’t know what their underlings were up to. Headley might also claim that the military leadership didn’t know about Osama bin Laden living in Abbottabat. Of course, Headley would really not know under whose authority his ISI handlers were operating under. For this you will need to question Major Mir or Major Malik to understand the chain-of-command. Headley himself told the Indians that the current Director of the ISI, Ge. Pasha, paid a visit to one of the LeT leaders in custody after the Mumbai terror attacks. Was it to buy his silence or to genuinely understand what his own organization was up to? Either way, there has been little action to bring to trial any of the main terrorist plotters who are all in Pakistan and with whom the military leaders often dine and pray with. Therefore, it is clear that they are all accessories to this horrendous crime against humanity - from Gen Kayani to Gen. Pasha down to Tahawwur Rana.

Anthony D'Souza

May 31, 2011, 9:43 p.m.

The 26/11 Mumbi attackers trial in Pakistan is an eye-wash.

Consider the facts -

(1) For several months after the 26/11 terror incident, Pakistan refused to acknowledge that Kasab (one of the 10 LeT terrorists who was captured alive) is a Pakistani. Kasab was interrogated by Indian police as well as by a team of visiting FBI. The village of Kasab in Pakistan was cordoned of by the ISI and all neighbors were strictly ordered to deny any knowledge of Kasab. It was Dawn, a Pakstani TV channel reporter who was able to clandetinely interview one of the neighbors of Kasab and Kasab’s parents. The reporters were also able to unearth his citizenship records and school records, to prove his citizenship. After the overwhelming evidence and increasing international pressure (especially from USA), their Nationl Security Advisor Durrni could no longer deny that Kasab is a Pakistani. For acknowledging this fact, the NSA was summarily sacked by angry PM, Mr Gilani. Today, nobody in the village knows where the family of Kasab has disappeared. They have been moved to a secret place by ISI. The ISI still wants to try the possibility of misleading the world that Pakistan had nothing to do with 26/11, and the ISI had lwYs claimed that the 26/11 was an elaborate but failed operation by Indian RAW. What a distorted mentality!

(2) The 26/11 trial in Pakistan is a very very reluctant step taken by Pakistan after tremendous international pressure. But itis a half-hearted attempt and mostly an eye-wash. During the last two years, four or five judges handling the trial have been suddenly sacked or transferred. The trial is being conducted secretly in closed doors and none of the media people have any access to the proceedings of the trial. The obvious reason for keeping the trial a hush-hush matter is the ISI does not want it’s involvement in the 26/11 carnage to be known to the media.

(3) Major master-minds of the terror plot like Hafiz Mohammed Saeed (the founder of LeT), Major Sajid Mir Majid, Major Iqbal, the Naval commando trainer Muzammil (not sure about his name), and also the lower level logistical support-staff like the sailors on the boat from Karachi to Mumbai who hijacked an Indian fishing boat, are all still not arrested. The ISI master-minds will probably never get arrested. But the Pakistn Army and ISI officers know it very well that these master-minds dine and pray together on regular basis with Lt Gen Shuja Pasha and Gen Kayani.

(4) India has long back agreed to receive a judicial commission from Pakistan to allow it to interview Indian authorities connected with the case in India. But Pkistn is dilly dallying the matter. Just one witness has so far been presented in the Pakistani court so far.

(5) The FBI and NIA is in possession of records of about 30 hours of telephonic instructions (on satellite phone, VOIP phone and cell phones) from Major Iqbal, Major Sajid Mir Majid and Zaki-ur Rehman Laqwi to the ten terrorists. Though Daood Gilani (aka, D C Headley) has identified each of the voices, the Pakistan Govt has formally rejected the Indian request to provide the official voice samples of these accused people.

Thus, the trial of some of the accused in Pakistan is nothing but a mere eye-wash and a big but reluctant drama for consumption of international public. After a few months, people should not get surprised that all of the arrested persons have been acquitted by the Pakistani court for want of so called clinching evidence!

Duplicity and double-dealing have always been the official policies of the Pakistani Authorities, whether clandestine support to Haqqani Network/Taliban Quetta Shura, or providing safe ISI housing to Osama Bin Laden or Dawood Ibrahim, or using LeT as a proxy irregular army in India to carry out terrorist activities.

Azhar Hussain

June 1, 2011, 7:37 a.m.

Headley was basically Us undercover agent and he was appointed by US intelligence to destroy mumbai city and alqaeda in pakistan.But acordingly it is monitring that FBI is failed rightnow.
Terrorists have not any religion and borders like David Headley.
I think only this part of his confession is true that Mumbai attack was carried by him and Tehwar Rana is innocent.

Pro Pubilca please investigate the matter of Dr. Affia Saddique who is under custody of USA .
How badly Dr. Affia Saddique is being treated?
Did she kill some one?
Raymond Davis the American terrorist killed 2 innocent people infront of many released due to American pressure and ProPubilca report any thing?
What is difference between Affia Saddique (Allegation=attempt to kill) and Raymond Davis (Allegation = The Killer)?

Mr.Pro Publica can i get answers to these Questions ?
I am sure not !!!

Pro Pubilca please investigate the matter of Dr. Affia Saddique who is under custody of USA .
How badly Dr. Affia Saddique is being treated?
Did she kill some one?
Raymond Davis the American terrorist killed 2 innocent people infront of many released due to American pressure and ProPubilca report any thing?
What is difference between Affia Saddique (Allegation=attempt to kill) and Raymond Davis (Allegation = The Killer)?

Mr.Pro Publica can i get answers to these Questions ?
I am sure not !!!!!

Pro Pubilca please investigate the matter of Dr. Affia Saddique who is under custody of USA .
How badly Dr. Affia Saddique is being treated?
Did she kill some one?
Raymond Davis the American terrorist killed 2 innocent people infront of many released due to American pressure and ProPubilca report any thing?
What is difference between Affia Saddique (Allegation=attempt to kill) and Raymond Davis (Allegation = The Killer)?

Mr.Pro Publica can i get answers to these Questions ?
I am sure not !!!!!!!

Intrigue!!! This would make for a good Hollywood block buster.

I guess Headley was not on a no fly list.

Sadly it is an ugly world with many nefarious characters playing suspicious roles whose goals are to inflict harm.

Sangram Singh Rana

June 2, 2011, 6:10 p.m.

When Headley last week told the Chicago court that only low-level ISI officials were complicit in the plan to attack Mumbai, he went back on his earlier statement regarding the involvement of the world’s most notorious spy agency, the ISI, in the gruesome attack on civilians. Headley had earlier told his FBI handlers that Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi, Lashkar commander and one of the 26/11 masterminds, had briefed the then ISI chief, Mr Nadim Taj, about the preparations for the terror attack. 

According to sources in the government here, Headley said that it was Lakhvi who told him about his meeting with Mr Nadim Taj in August 2008. 

As per the information FBI shared with Indian agencies, Headley also told the American interrogators that it was because of the detailed exchange he already had with Mr Nadim Taj, that Lakhvi did not brief Major General Ahmed Shuja Pasha when he took over as the ISI chief in September 2008. 

This article is part of an ongoing investigation:

Pakistan’s Terror Connections

The Mumbai terror attacks have revealed evidence of the extent of the ties of Pakistani intelligence to terrorist groups and the flaws in the U.S fight against Pakistan-based terror.

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