Pakistan and the Mumbai Attacks: The Untold Story
The 2008 terrorist attacks in Mumbai offer a rare picture of the ties between Pakistan’s intelligence service and the militant group Lashkar-i-Taiba. The trail of two key figures, an accused Pakistani mastermind and his American operative, traces the rise of a complex, international threat.
This story was published as part of Amazon's Kindle Singles program, and is available for reading on that device.
On a November night two years ago, a young American rabbi and his pregnant wife finished dinner at their home in the mega-city of Mumbai.
Gavriel and Rivka Holtzberg had come to India on a religious mission. They had established India's first outpost of Chabad Lubavitch, the Orthodox Jewish organization, in a six-story tower overlooking a shantytown. The Chabad House offered a synagogue, a cyber-café, two floors of guest rooms, India's biggest Hebrew library and a dining room that could seat 50 for festive meals. The Holtzbergs' guests that evening were two American rabbis, an Israeli grandmother and a Mexican tourist.
Hundreds of miles away in Pakistan, a youthful terrorist chief named Sajid Mir was preparing a different sort of religious mission. With the support of Pakistan's intelligence service, Mir had spent two years using a Pakistani-American businessman named David Coleman Headley to conduct meticulous reconnaissance on Mumbai, according to investigators and court documents. He had selected iconic targets and the Chabad House, a seemingly obscure choice, but one that ensured that Jews and Americans would be casualties.
On Nov. 26, 2008, Mir sat among half-a-dozen militant chiefs in a safe house in Karachi tracking an attack team as its dinghy approached the Mumbai waterfront. The Lashkar-i-Taiba terrorist group had made Mir the project manager of its biggest strike ever, the crowning achievement of his career as a holy warrior.
The 10 gunmen went ashore and split into five teams. His voice crisp and steady, Mir directed the slaughter by phone from his command post, relaying detailed instructions to his fighters. About 10:25 p.m., gunmen stormed the Chabad House. They shot the Holtzbergs and the visiting rabbis, took the Israeli grandmother and Mexican tourist hostage and barricaded themselves on an upper floor.
Mir told his men to try to trade the hostages for a gunman who had been captured. Mir spoke directly to the Mexican hostage, 50-year-old Norma Rabinovich, who had been preparing to move to Israel to join her adult children.
Mir soothed the sobbing woman in accented but smooth English.
"Save your energy for good days," Mir told her during the call intercepted by Indian intelligence. "If they contact right now, maybe you gonna, you know, celebrate your Sabbath with your family."
The prisoner swap failed. Mir ordered the gunman to "get rid" of Rabinovich.
"Stand her up on this side of your door," he said. "Shoot her such that the bullet goes right through her head and out the other side...Do it. I'm listening...Do it, in God's name."
The three-day siege of Mumbai left 166 dead and 308 wounded. Twenty-six of the dead were foreigners, including six Americans. The attacks inflamed tension between Pakistan and India at a time when the nuclear-armed foes were trying to improve their relationship. The repercussions complicated the U.S. battle against Islamic extremism in South Asia and thrust Lashkar into the global spotlight.
More than two years later, Mir and his victims are at the center of a wrenching national-security dilemma confronting the Obama administration. The question, simply put, is whether the larger interests of the United States in maintaining good relations with Pakistan will permit Mir and other suspects to get away with one of the most devastating terrorist attacks in recent history.
Despite the diplomatic sensitivities, administration officials say they are pursuing those responsible.
"The U.S. government is completely determined to see justice done in the case," said a senior U.S. counterterrorism official who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of pending prosecutions. "Sometimes it takes time."
For more than six months, ProPublica has examined the investigation of the attacks and previous cases documenting the rise of Lashkar. This account is based on interviews with more than two dozen law enforcement, intelligence and diplomatic officials from the United States, India, Pakistan, France, Britain, Australia and Israel, including front-line investigators. ProPublica also interviewed associates and relatives of suspects and victims, some of whom had not discussed the case with journalists, and reviewed foreign and U.S. case files, some of them previously undisclosed.
These documents and interviews paint the fullest portrait yet of Mir, a mysterious figure whose global trail traces Lashkar's evolution. His name has surfaced in investigations on four continents, his web reaching as far as suburban Virginia. Fleeting glimpses of him appear in case files and communications intercepts. A French court even convicted him in absentia in 2007. But he remains free and dangerous, according to U.S. and Indian officials.
Mir has close ties to Pakistan's security forces and may have been an officer in the powerful Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate (ISI). The ISI has been accused for years of playing a "double game": acting as a front-line U.S. ally in the fight against terror while supporting selected terrorist groups. The Mumbai case provides the first detailed inside account of how that game is played, thanks to the confession of Headley, Mir's American operative, a colorful character in a story of global intrigue.
U.S. investigators are persuaded that ISI officers recruited and trained Headley in spying techniques, then ran him as an agent in tandem with Lashkar. Pakistani military officers funded and directed Headley's reconnaissance in India, supplied tactical advice for the Mumbai attack and participated in a follow-up plot against Denmark, according to U.S. and Indian officials.
ProPublica's investigation leads to another disturbing revelation: Despite isolated voices of concern, for years the U.S. intelligence community was slow to focus on Lashkar and detect the extent of its determination to strike Western targets. During that period, Washington largely accepted Pakistan's quiet tolerance of Lashkar, which unlike its allies has not attacked the Pakistani state. Most U.S. officials admit that counterterrorism agencies grasped the dimensions of the threat only after the Mumbai attacks.
The FBI investigation into the killings of the Americans has focused on a half-dozen accused masterminds who are still at large: Mir, top Lashkar chiefs and a man thought to be a major in the ISI. U.S. officials say they have urged Islamabad to arrest those suspects.
"We put consistent pressure on the Pakistanis to deal with Lashkar and do so at the highest levels," said the senior U.S. counterterrorism official. "There has been no lack of clarity in our message."
But officials acknowledge that the response to the Mumbai attacks has been insufficient. The effort to bring to justice the masterminds - under a law that makes terrorist attacks against Americans overseas a crime - faces obstacles. A U.S. prosecution could implicate Pakistani military chiefs who, at minimum, have allowed Lashkar to operate freely. Pressure on Pakistan to confront both the military and Lashkar could damage counterterrorism efforts.
"It's a balancing act," a high-ranking U.S. law enforcement official said. "We can only push so far. It's very political. Sajid Mir is too powerful for them to go after. Too well-connected. We need the Pakistanis to go after the Taliban and al-Qaeda."
Pakistani officials told ProPublica that they have no information on Mir. They denied allegations that the ISI supports Lashkar. They point out that hundreds of ISI officers have been killed in clashes with Islamic militants.
"Allegations of ISI's cadres operating in connivance with the militants...are based on malicious intent," said a senior Pakistani official who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the issue's sensitivity. ISI "remains top-to-bottom transparent and rests under the complete control of the civilian government...There is no question that the government thinks that all militants are enemies of the state."
Pakistan has charged Lashkar's military chief and six less-influential suspects in the Mumbai attacks. But the trial has stalled, raising fears among U.S. and Indian officials that the prosecution will collapse in a court system that rarely convicts accused extremists.
The U.S. investigation turned up 320 potential targets abroad - only 20 of them in India - including U.S., British and Indian embassies, government buildings, tourist sites and global financial centers, officials say. Many of the targets were scouted by Headley, who roamed the world on terrorist missions despite repeated warnings about him to U.S. agents from spouses and associates. The failure to stop him results partly from a lack of attention to Lashkar, experts say.
"There should have been a recognition that Lashkar had the desire and the potential to attack the West and that we needed to get up to speed on this group," said Charles Faddis, a retired CIA chief of counterterrorist operations in South Asia and other hot spots. "It was a mistake to dismiss it as just a threat to India."
Today, Mir personifies Lashkar's evolving danger. The group's longtime ties to the security forces have made it more professional and potentially more menacing than al-Qaeda. Recent intelligence shows Lashkar remains intent on striking the West and that the group increasingly blurs together with al-Qaeda and other networks in the jihadist cauldron of Pakistan, according to Western anti-terror officials.
"Lashkar is not just a tool of the ISI, but an ally of al-Qaeda that participates in its global jihad," said Jean-Louis Bruguière, a French judge who investigated Mir. "Today Pakistan is the heart of the terrorist threat. And it may be too late to do anything about it."
For more than a decade, Sajid Mir has operated in a murky underworld of spies, soldiers and terrorists.
An Interpol notice last year seeking his arrest illustrates confusion about basic facts of his life. The Indian warrant identifies him as Sajid Majid, but most investigators still call him Sajid Mir, saying Majid may be his true name or one of several aliases. Interpol says his birthdate is Jan. 1, 1978, which would make him 32. But Headley, his star operative, told Indian investigators Mir was born in 1976, according to a 119-page report on his interrogation in Chicago last year by India's National Investigation Agency. Most investigators think he is in his mid to late thirties.
Mir's father was born in India and joined the Muslim exodus during the 1947 partition that created Pakistan, a seminal event that shaped the profound hatred of India among Pakistani militants. Mir was born in Lahore, Pakistan's cultural capital and second-largest city, but grew up in Karachi. He has two brothers and two sisters, according to the Indian report.
Mir spent time in Saudi Arabia during his youth because his father worked there. Mir became steeped in Saudi fundamentalist ideology and developed a fierce anti-Semitic streak. His family may have run a manufacturing business in Lahore, according to Australian court testimony.
Mir was a teenager when a professor named Hafiz Saeed created Lashkar-i-Taiba (the Army of the Pure) in the late 1980s with Abdullah Azzam, a Palestinian Islamist. Azzam had another claim to fame: He was an ideological mentor of Osama Bin Laden and helped him found the organization that was the forerunner of al-Qaeda.
Lashkar joined the fight against the Soviets in Afghanistan supported by the United States and Pakistan. Soon, Pakistani strategists built Lashkar into a proxy army against India in the disputed territory of Kashmir. Lashkar boomed, thanks to the funds and guidance of the Pakistani state and Saudi benefactors. The group won vast support with its mix of extremism and nationalism and its array of schools, hospitals and social programs, especially in the Punjab, Mir's home region. Indians called Lashkar "the government mujaheddin."
Mir joined Lashkar when he was about 16, investigators say. Some senior U.S., British and French anti-terrorism officials say he also spent time in the military, although that remains unclear. For years, it was common for the Pakistani military to detail officers to Lashkar, according to investigators and court testimony. The ISI is part of the armed forces.
Mir rose rapidly in Lashkar, becoming chief of its unit in Lahore and then joining the international wing, which embraced global jihad in the 1990s. Lashkar militants fought in wars in Afghanistan, Bosnia and Chechnya and built far-flung recruitment and financing networks. Those activities and Lashkar's anti-American and anti-Jewish propaganda showed an increasingly internationalist bent, according to U.S. congressional testimony and Pakistani and Western officials.
Yet the U.S. intelligence community still viewed the group as a regional player focused on India and Kashmir. Rep. Gary L. Ackerman (D-N.Y.), the former chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the Middle East and South Asia, said he tried and failed to get Lashkar designated as a terrorist organization in the late 1990s.
"I said it had a huge potential for damage," Ackerman recalled. "People were not paying attention."
Lashkar trained tens of thousands of holy warriors. It was easier to join than al-Qaeda, operating openly from storefront offices across Pakistan and attracting Westerners with slick propaganda in English. Some foreign Lashkar trainees went on to join al-Qaeda; several led al-Qaeda plots against New York and London.
Mir became a deputy to the director of Lashkar's foreign operations wing. He had direct access to Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi, Lashkar's military chief, and ties to al-Qaeda in neighboring Afghanistan, according to a French investigation. After the Sept. 11 attacks, Mir began grooming foreign volunteers who had come to Pakistan to wage war on the West.
Willie Brigitte became one of Mir's favorites. Born in Guadeloupe and radicalized in Paris, the Afro-Caribbean convert was dour, burly and nearsighted behind round-rimmed glasses. Fellow trainees called him "the Grouchy Frenchman."
Brigitte was part of an al-Qaeda-connected group of militants in Europe involved in numerous plots. In September 2001, he set off for Pakistan hoping to reach the Afghan battleground. He made his way to Lashkar headquarters in Muridke outside Lahore. The complex featured a mosque, a university, dormitories and houses for leaders. Brigitte briefly studied Arabic and the Koran and met Mir, the coordinator of foreign recruits, who carried himself like a rising star.
"He was in fact an important personage," Brigitte testified later in France. "He was a man of about 30, very cordial and pleasant, with whom I had a good relationship."
Of medium build, Mir had a dark complexion, black hair and a thick beard. He spoke English, Urdu, Hindi and Arabic. His nicknames were Abu Bara (Father of Bara), Uncle Bill, Sajid Bill, Wassi and Ibrahim. A Makarov pistol on his hip, he was accompanied by two bodyguards and a driver, according to Brigitte's testimony. Mir was secretive, meticulous and adept with computers, according to the accounts of several recruits who have been captured. He was also charming, manipulative and ruthless.
His recruits included four militants from the Virginia suburbs of Washington, D.C. They were part of a multiethnic crew of college graduates, U.S. Army veterans and gun enthusiasts whose spiritual leader was Ali Al-Timimi, an Iraqi-American imam based in Falls Church.
Galvanized by the Sept. 11 attacks, the men quit their jobs and traveled to Pakistan to train with Lashkar. Another Virginia militant who had already trained there called a Lashkar contact from the parking lot of a 7-Eleven to arrange the trip, according to federal court testimony of Yong-Ki Kwon, a Korean-American convert to Islam.
"It didn't matter why the war was going to happen," testified Kwon, a Virginia Tech graduate who had worked at Sprint. "The only thing that mattered is that our brothers and sisters in Afghanistan needs [sic] help against imminent attack."
The Virginia jihadis joined up in Lahore at a Lashkar office decorated with posters depicting the U.S. Capitol in flames and the slogan: "Yesterday we saw Russia disintegrate, then India, next we see America and Israel burning."
Mir soon cleared the volunteers to train for holy war.
To reach Lashkar's mountain training complex, recruits drove overnight past checkpoints manned by Pakistani soldiers, according to court testimony.
"They were deferential to us and let us pass without difficulty," Brigitte said. "There was no search and no verification of our passports, which were in the hands of the Lashkar bosses."
From a base camp, the recruits hiked to an altitude of 4,000 feet for nine days of firearms instruction, then climbed another 4,000 feet to a camp that taught covert warfare. The Pakistani army supplied crates of weapons with filed-off serial numbers, Brigitte testified.
The mountains teemed with more than 3,000 trainees. Although Pakistanis dominated the ranks, there were Americans, Arabs, Australians, Azeris, Britons, Chechens, Filipinos, Kurds, New Zealanders, Singaporeans, Turks and Uzbeks.
"It was very impressive every morning when we would gather and shout 'Allah Ouallah Akbar,' " Brigitte testified. "The setting was imposing because you could see the outline of the Himalayas."
The Frenchman bunked with the Virginia trainees in a mud hut. His zeal and endurance impressed his instructors, who led drills in English and Arabic. Over tea, Brigitte befriended several instructors, who told him they were Pakistani Army officers on special assignment.
"[They] did not hide their affiliation with the Pakistani Army," Brigitte testified. "The close relations between the Pakistani Army and Lashkar were clear."
Brigitte became convinced that Mir was also in the Pakistani military. During Mir's visits to check on training progress, everyone from the camp chief to army sentries treated him like a superior, Brigitte said. It was clear to him that Mir was a military officer, he said.
"He never told me formally, but I understood it because of many details," Brigitte testified. "He was very respected by the instructors who were themselves members of the Pakistani Army but also at the checkpoints where he was well-known. . . . Nonetheless, I never knew what unit Sajid belonged to or what his rank was."
Several U.S. and French anti-terror officials say Mir became an army major, although he may not have reached that rank in 2001. He eventually left the military, although it is not clear when or why, officials say. Bruguière, the French judge, said the case showed "that Sajid Mir was a high-ranking officer in the Pakistani Army and apparently also was in the ISI."
In contrast, some investigators aren't convinced that Mir served in the military. Headley's confession to Indian investigators doesn't mention Mir's military affiliation, though it portrays him as a close associate of the ISI.
The crucial role that Pakistani security forces played in the camps has emerged in other cases. A Briton who trained with Lashkar and was later convicted as the ringleader of a foiled 2004 plot against London by al-Qaeda testified that ISI officers screened and trained foreign recruits in Lashkar camps in 2000. When he returned to the stand for the next day of testimony, the Briton refused to answer further questions, alleging that the ISI had reacted to his courtroom account by threatening his relatives in Pakistan.
While Mir's men drilled in the mountains in late 2001, a U.S-led military operation toppled the Taliban and al-Qaeda in Afghanistan. The CIA took an interest in the Lashkar training camps in Pakistan as well, asking Pakistani intelligence to help find foreign militants who might pose a threat to the West, according to court testimony.
But the American hunt for terrorists in the Lashkar stronghold was doomed to fail because of the duplicity of the Pakistani security forces, according to testimony. On four occasions, instructors temporarily evacuated foreign trainees from the camps before joint U.S.-Pakistani intelligence teams arrived, Brigitte testified.
"The instructors were informed by the Pakistani army because they were part of the army," Brigitte testified. "The foreign volunteers ... were asked to clean the camp and especially retrieve cartridges and casings. From the comments of the Pakistanis who stayed, about 15 Pakistanis conducted these inspections with an equal number of Americans. ... We were told they were CIA officers who were searching for the presence of foreign jihadis."
The trainees trekked back down from a hiding place after the CIA teams left, Brigitte and Kwon testified.
In November 2001, Mir gave the trainees disappointing news: Their dreams of martyrdom had been crushed.
Mir said Lashkar would not send them to fight in Afghanistan, because the U.S. military operation was almost over and had closed the border to aspiring foreign fighters, according to the testimony of Kwon and Brigitte.
Mir approached a handful of militants about operations in the West. First, he invited two of the Virginia militants - Kwon and Masoud Khan, a tough Pakistani-American - to dinner in Lahore.
At the restaurant, Mir introduced them to a Lashkar chief who wore "tight Western clothes" and a "nice trim beard," Kwon testified. The chief jokingly called himself "the Disco Mujahid." He asked them to undertake missions in the United States entailing "a lot of propaganda, information-gathering and e-mailing," said Kwon, who declined the proposal.
Khan later told FBI agents that the Lashkar bosses asked him to conduct surveillance of an unnamed chemical plant in Maryland. The request is significant because it shows that Lashkar was gathering intelligence on U.S. targets as early as 2001, a period when American agencies saw Lashkar as a limited regional threat.
About two months later, Mir told Brigitte to return to France as the group's "sector chief" there. Mir ordered him to keep quiet if arrested.
"He absolutely did not want it known that I had trained at a Lashkar camp," Brigitte testified.
The handling of Brigitte - veiled threats, secretive communications - would later intensify the suspicions of French investigators that Mir had ties to Pakistani intelligence. Their indictment described Mir as Brigitte's "case officer."
"Brigitte was told: Go back and wait," said a former top French intelligence official. "That's what intelligence services do. Brigitte was a clandestine operative. . . . He obeyed orders. But I don't think he realized that he had become an agent of an intelligence service."
Around the time Brigitte left, a Pakistani-American arrived. His name at the time was Daood Gilani, but he would become known to the world as David Coleman Headley.
Headley, now 50, differed from Mir's other protégés. He was older, a ladies' man, a globe-trotter at ease among American and Pakistani elites. Born in Washington, D.C. to a prominent Pakistani broadcaster and a Philadelphia socialite, he moved to Pakistan as an infant and grew up in a conservative, devout household, attending a top military school.
Returning to the United States at 17 with his mother, he lived in Philadelphia and then New York and slid into a wild lifestyle of heroin dealing and addiction. In 1988, the DEA busted him at the Frankfurt Airport trying to smuggle drugs from Pakistan to the United States. According to court documents he promptly betrayed his accomplices, cooperated with investigators and won a reduced sentence.
After a bust in New York in 1997, Headley became a prized informant of the Drug Enforcement Administration. At the same time, he radicalized after years of a casual attitude toward Islam, according to associates. While spying on drug traffickers in Pakistan and participating in undercover DEA stings in New York, he began raising funds and recruiting for Lashkar. During a visit to his father's home in Lahore in 2000, he became friends with Saeed, the Lashkar spiritual chief who draws tens of thousands to his rallies, and embraced the group's ideology.
Headley juggled women as well as allegiances. He entered into an arranged marriage with a Pakistani in 1999 and now has four children with her. But he continued a longtime relationship in New York with a blonde make-up artist whom he married in 2002, according to court documents and interviews.
After the Sept. 11 attacks, U.S. authorities decided Headley's unique profile would help them respond to a dire need for intelligence from South Asia. Prosecutors and DEA agents went to a federal judge and won an unusual decision ending Headley's probation three years early, according to court documents and anti-terror officials. Weeks after the December 2001 ruling, Headley headed for Pakistan. U.S. officials say he was still a DEA informant when he began training in the Lashkar camps in early 2002 and may have remained an informant until 2005 or later.
Although the Pakistani instructors in the camps decided Headley was too old and too slow for combat in Kashmir, the charming American hit it off with Mir, the coordinator of foreign recruits. The two bonded because they both had smooth, aggressive con-man personalities, investigators say. Mir decided to cultivate this man of many worlds as a clandestine operative, according to documents and officials.
Unleashing the Network
In December 2001, Lashkar took part in a commando-style attack on the Indian Parliament that killed a dozen people and left India and Pakistan on the brink of war.
Washington finally designated Lashkar as a terrorist group. Pakistani authorities outlawed the group and briefly held Saeed, its spiritual leader, under house arrest. But in reality, investigators say, nothing much changed.
"Lashkar was the only major jihadi outfit to escape the Pakistani crackdown," wrote Stephen Tankel, author of the forthcoming book "Storming the World Stage: The Story of Lashkar-E-Taiba," in a recent academic report. "Lashkar served as a major provider of military training for jihadi actors in the region."
In early 2002, Mir led an overseas buying spree for military equipment. He sent his British quartermaster, Abu Khalid, on four trans-Atlantic trips. Abu Khalid reported to Mir via e-mail as he worked with three of the Virginia militants, including Khan. They helped the Briton buy an unmanned airborne vehicle and more paintballs than the U.S. Marine Corps needs for a year of drills.
The procurement missions ended when the FBI arrested 11 Virginia militants in mid-2003. A search of Khan's home turned up guns, a terrorist manual and photos of the White House and FBI headquarters. Investigators suspected he did reconnaissance on those sites as well as on the chemical plant in Maryland he had discussed with Mir.
Because the Virginia crew had played paintball war games as they radicalized, a somewhat skeptical news media dubbed them "The Paintball Jihadis." Lawyers and Muslim activists complained about over-zealous prosecution.
Nonetheless, the defendants were sentenced to long prison terms. At the trial, Mir's role in Lashkar surfaced publicly for the first time. But the group still wasn't of much interest to the public or law enforcement, anti-terrorism officials say.
The trial revealed evidence of Lashkar's dangerous alliance with al-Qaeda. Prosecutors cited a 2002 incident when U.S. and Pakistani forces captured a key al-Qaeda coordinator in a shootout at a Lashkar safe house in Faisalabad.
He had the phone number for Lashkar's chief of international operations - Mir's boss.
The Australian Plot
As the FBI closed in on the Virginia contingent, Mir launched a plot on the other side of the world.
In calls and e-mails in 2002 and 2003, he prepared Brigitte, the "Grouchy Frenchman," for a trip to Australia. Mir directed British operatives to send $5,000 to Brigitte, asking his quartermaster in an e-mail: "How is our French Connection Project going?"
Brigitte arrived in Australia in May 2003 and joined forces with Faheem Lodhi, a Pakistani-born architect and militant who had worked for Mir in the camps. With Lodhi's help, Brigitte settled into a new life in Sydney, quickly marrying a former Australian army intelligence officer who had converted to Islam.
At Mir's direction, Brigitte collected maps and other intelligence including photos of military installations taken by his new wife, though she resisted his demands for information on potential targets. The wary Brigitte used the tradecraft learned in the Lashkar camps, taking measures to detect surveillance and burning documents, according to his wife's testimony.
Lodhi created an alias and a fictitious business to obtain bomb chemicals and maps of the electrical grid. He compiled a 15-page manual for making homemade poisons, explosives and detonators. Investigators believe the duo planned to bomb a military base or a nuclear plant.
The plot was foiled by French agents, who were hunting Brigitte as part of a larger investigation. They learned he was in Sydney and alerted Australian intelligence. Police deported him to France in October and captured Lodhi after watching him throw satellite photos of military bases in a dumpster and call Mir from a phone booth.
Mir sent Lodhi an e-mail asking for "fresh news about our friend," according to court documents.
"Our friend has returned to his country and his government has him," the Australian operative responded gloomily.
Lodhi was sentenced to 20 years for preparing a terrorist act. Investigators think the plot was related to Australia's troop presence in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The judge's verdict noted Mir's key role and called him a "shadowy figure" who deployed operatives for "terrorist actions in Australia." U.S. and French investigators believe Mir must have had approval of Lashkar leaders for such a bold strike on the West.
Brigitte's deportation put Mir in the sights of Bruguière, France's best-known terrorist hunter. Questioned by Bruguière in November 2003, Brigitte discussed Mir in a tone of respect and fear. His account made French investigators suspect that Pakistani spies had played a role in the Australian plot.
"In the heart of Lashkar there are camps that train individuals for the mission of eliminating those who talk," Brigitte testified. "And you understand that the Pakistani army and Pakistani intelligence were stakeholders in these operations."
Bruguière took advantage of French laws allowing him to pursue terrorist conspiracies across borders. He worked with investigators in Virginia, Australia and Britain. Mir's name, he said, popped up everywhere.
Preparing the Masterpiece
Mir did not just direct overseas operations from the safety of Pakistan.
His front-line duties took him to countries including Canada, Qatar, Syria and Thailand, where he tried to set up a Lashkar base, according to the Indian interrogation report. He used several passports with different identities, including a Christian one. He was arrested briefly during a mission in Dubai, but his Lashkar connections helped him get out of jail, according to the report, which does not specify the date or the reason for the arrest.
In 2005, Mir shifted to a Lashkar unit dedicated to attacks in India, and in April he embarked on a secret mission. He crossed the border into India at the Wagah border crossing, the only land port of entry with Pakistan, blending in with Pakistani cricket fans flocking to see their national team play in India, according to U.S. and Indian anti-terrorism officials.
Indian investigators think Mir was part of an operation involving a dozen Pakistani "cricket fans" who went missing after crossing the border. Indian spy-hunters eventually caught one: a suspected ISI agent with a false identity whom they accused of espionage.
Mir's undercover mission involved terrorist reconnaissance on the National Defense College in New Delhi. A fellow Lashkar militant and former army major who accompanied Mir recalled that "he was very nervous" at the Indian border crossing, according to the Indian interrogation report.
Later that year, Mir's experience in international operations and his skills as a handler of Western recruits paid off. Lashkar chose him to develop its most ambitious plot to date, a strike on Mumbai, India's economic and cultural capital. Mir turned to Headley, his prize American recruit.
Headley was eager to put his talents to use. He had studied ideology, weapons, hand-to-hand-combat and survival skills during five extended stints in the Lashkar camps. He had become friendly with Lashkar bosses, some of whom were his neighbors in Lahore. Mir, his friend and protector, lived near the airport and a golf club in that city, according to Headley's interrogation.
During a trip to New York in August 2005, Headley survived a close call with his wife there. New York police arrested him for assault after he allegedly slapped her in a domestic dispute, according to investigators and an investigative document. The wife reported his activities with Lashkar to a federal terrorism task force, describing in three interviews his radicalization, his training in the Pakistani camps and his claims that he was working as a U.S informant. Nonetheless, the FBI decided Headley did not pose a threat and closed the inquiry. His travels around the world continued, unimpeded.
Soon afterward, Headley met in Pakistan with Mir and other Lashkar bosses. They told him he had been chosen to do reconnaissance for a big job in Mumbai. He went to Philadelphia in November and legally changed his name from Daood Gilani to David Coleman Headley to conceal his Pakistani heritage. He also arranged to use the consulting firm of a Pakistani friend in Chicago, First World Immigration Services, as a cover for his terrorist reconnaissance.
"The change of name, establishment of an immigration office in India ...use of an American passport and so on were my ideas," Headley later told interrogators. "Lashkar appreciated these ideas."
Enter the ISI
Headley had learned by now that Lashkar had an almost symbiotic relationship with the ISI, according to his confession.
The spy agency has "control over the most important operatives" of Lashkar, and every chief "is handled by some ISI official," he told investigators, according to the Indian report. An ISI brigadier general served as handler for Zaki-ur-Rehmane Lakhvi, Lashkar's military chief, who also "is close to the [Director General] of ISI," he said. The ISI funded Lashkar and shielded Saeed, the spiritual leader, from interference, Headley said.
Saeed "is very close to ISI," Headley said. "He is well protected."
Headley's confession confirms the assessment of foreign intelligence agencies, according to officials and experts: In exchange for ISI funding and direction, Lashkar has steadfastly avoided attacking the Pakistani state.
Pakistani officials deny such allegations. But U.S. and Indian investigators say Headley was more than a terrorist: He became a Pakistani spy.
"I don't know of any other cases in which ISI has used and worked with Americans," said Faddis, the former CIA counter-terror chief. "Having a guy like this would be great for LeT and ISI. The Indians are working off a profile of what they think enemy operatives look like. This guy does not fit that profile. He can walk through the screen without being seen."
Headley's relationship with the ISI began in January 2006 after Pakistani authorities briefly detained him for trying to smuggle arms into India. An ISI officer named Major Samir Ali interviewed the American, then referred him to a Major Iqbal, who became his main handler in Lahore, according to Headley's account.
Major Iqbal, described as a fat, deep-voiced cigarette-smoker in his mid-thirties, brought Headley to a meeting with a man identified as Lieutenant Colonel Shah. The two officers promised Headley financial support for terrorist operations against India, according to the interrogation report.
At subsequent meetings in safe houses, Major Iqbal gave Headley secret documents on India. He assigned a noncommissioned officer to give the American standard intelligence training. Headley learned techniques for detecting surveillance, developing sources and other skills, then practiced with the lower-ranking officer on the streets of Lahore. The specialized training lasted several months and continued intermittently as Major Iqbal taught Headley how to use cameras and other devices for missions, the report says.
"I became close to Major Iqbal," Headley said. "The training given by this NCO under the guidance of Major Iqbal was much more scientific and effective than the trainings I did in the LeT camps."
Phone and e-mail evidence have corroborated Headley's contact with Major Iqbal and other suspected ISI officers, U.S. and Indian officials say. Major Iqbal has been detected directing intelligence and terror operations in other cases, officials say.
Because Lashkar keeps the spy agency informed about its foreign militants, Headley's arrest near the Pakistani border may have been part of a plan to recruit a promising American operative, an Indian counter-terror official said.
Pakistani officials say they haven't been able to identify Major Iqbal. They deny that any serving military officers were involved in the plot.
"It's possible people impersonate the ISI or the army," the Pakistani official said. "Uniforms have been stolen in the past for this kind of thing."
In the summer of 2006, according to U.S. court documents and investigators, Major Iqbal gave Headley $25,000 to pay for expenses and to establish his cover, a new office of the U.S. immigration consulting firm in the city that was his target: Mumbai.
Headley seemed like a gregarious, high-rolling American businessman when he set up shop in Mumbai in September 2006.
He hired a secretary and opened an office of First World Immigration Services, which brought hundreds of clients to the United States. He partied at swank locales such as the ornate Taj Mahal Hotel, a 1903 landmark favored by Westerners and the Indian elite. He joined an upscale gym, where he befriended a Bollywood actor. He roamed the booming, squalid city taking photos and shooting video.
But it was all a front. Headley was busy gathering intelligence, taking photos and shooting video of potential terrorist targets. When he returned to Pakistan, he reported to Major Iqbal in Lahore and Mir in Muzaffarabad, according to court documents.
Mir and Major Iqbal were both keenly interested in the iconic Taj, the centerpiece of the plan, according to U.S. and Indian court documents. Mir told Headley he needed more images and also schedules for the hotel's conference rooms and ballroom, which often hosted high-powered events, according to investigators and court documents.
"They thought it would be a good place to get valuable hostages," the Indian anti-terrorism official said.
Headley did more reconnaissance missions over the next two years, reporting to Mir and Major Iqbal before and after each trip. His Lashkar and ISI handlers met him separately, but they coordinated with each other, according to court documents and investigators.
In addition, Major Iqbal sent Headley on separate spying missions to scout an atomic research center and military sites around India. The ISI officer called Headley from a phone number with a 646 area code (one used in the New York area). This could have been a technique to conceal the origin of the calls in Pakistan and avoid eavesdropping by American and Indian intelligence agencies.
"The whole thing feels like ISI is trying to maintain plausible deniability," said Faddis, using the intelligence term for operating through an intermediary who can be disavowed. "They are running in parallel with LeT and clearly leveraging sources for their own purposes, but they are still trying to avoid being directly tied to the attack planning, most of the time."
Mir Convicted in Paris
As Mir plotted in 2006, French investigators were confronting the dimensions of the threat he posed.
Bruguière, the French judge, had spent three years investigating Mir as the result of Brigitte's confession in the foiled bomb plot in Australia. The French terrorist had identified Mir as his handler, describing him as a figure whose influential connections made him "untouchable in Pakistan." Building on the investigations in Virginia, Britain and Australia, Bruguière assembled a case that Mir was a kingpin leading terrorist operations on four continents.
The evidence also convinced Bruguière that Mir was or had been an officer in the Pakistani army or the ISI. Senior European and U.S. counterterrorism officials concur with the French judge, but some U.S. investigators do not.
In October 2006, two years before the Mumbai attacks, Bruguière issued an arrest warrant for Mir that was circulated worldwide by Interpol. There was no response from Pakistan.
A Paris court convicted Mir in absentia and sentenced him to 10 years in prison in 2007. Once again, Pakistan did nothing. And Bruguière says most Western investigators he dealt with continued to view Lashkar as a regional actor confined to South Asia.
"For me it was a crucial case, a turning point," Bruguière said, "because of what it revealed about the role played by Pakistani groups in the global jihad and about the role of the Pakistani security forces in terrorism. We had the impression that Mir was protected at the highest levels of the state."
In summer 2007, Bruguière met at the White House with a top security adviser to President George W. Bush. The French judge shared his fears about Lashkar and his suspicion that Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf was playing a "double game." (Musharraf has asserted publicly that he was a staunch ally in the fight against terrorism.)
Bruguière said the White House official, whom he declined to identify publicly, did not seem convinced.
"The U.S. government is a huge machine," said Bruguière, who is now the European Union's envoy to Washington in efforts against terrorism financing. "It's difficult to make it change course."
Dissent in the Ranks
Mir likely knew about the Interpol warrant and his conviction in France, but he did not seem worried.
In 2007 he and Major Iqbal sent Headley to assess several dozen targets in Mumbai and other Indian cities. Headley even befriended aides to a Hindu political strongman, a potential first step for an assassination plot, according to his confession.
Both Mir and Headley got married during this period, although Headley was still married to his Pakistani and New York wives, according to court documents. Mir wed the daughter of a former Pakistani navy chaplain. Headley's new wife was a Moroccan medical student in Lahore.
Headley's bride, Faiza Outalha, was a devout Muslim who covered her head with the traditional hijab. But she was also strong-willed. Soon after the wedding, she demanded that Headley take her with him on what she thought were his business trips to Mumbai. Headley did not want to blow his cover as a non-Muslim American, so he kept her at a distance from acquaintances and hotel staff and tried to avoid registering her at the Taj, according to his confession.
"It was very difficult to conceal her Muslim identity as she was wearing a hijab," Headley told Indian interrogators. "Two persons had seen me with Faiza when I was with her in the lobby of the hotel....I managed to convince both of them by telling them that she was a client of mine."
In September, Mir showed Headley a Styrofoam model of the Taj that was constructed using his photos, videos and reports. They talked about attacking a conference of software engineers at the hotel. The plan resembled previous Lashkar strikes in India: a bold but limited shooting attack on a single target by gunmen who escaped afterward.
But soon Mir began working on a more ambitious project involving multiple targets, including Western ones. The shift resulted from conflict in the ranks of Lashkar and the ISI, according to investigators and Headley's account. Disillusioned militants who wanted a bigger role in fighting in Afghanistan and in the global jihad were defecting to al-Qaeda and the Taliban, because Lashkar and the ISI were keeping the main focus on Kashmir.
Lashkar's leadership responded to this dangerous internal rift by deciding to carry out a spectacular al-Qaeda-style strike on Western targets in Mumbai. The ISI approved the shift in tactics, Headley explained.
"The ISI I believe had no ambiguity of understanding the necessity to strike India [and] ...shifting and minimizing the theater of violence from the domestic soil of Pakistan," he said.
The analysis rings true, according to officials and experts.
"Lashkar's senior leaders are sometimes pulled between adherence to the ISI and their dedication to pan-Islamist jihad," Tankel said. "Meanwhile, the ISI is trying to pressure the group enough to keep it in line and not so much that it fragments. That becomes more difficult as LeT integrates further with other outfits and a segment of its members agitate for breaking free of ISI control."
Headley's tangled personal life soon caused trouble again. His quarrels with his new wife spurred her, like the wife in New York two years earlier, to report him to U.S. authorities.
During walk-in visits to the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad in December 2007 and January 2008, Outalha told federal agents that she believed her husband was a terrorist. She mentioned militant training and suicide bombings and described his travels to Mumbai, including her stay at the Taj hotel, U.S. law enforcement officials say.
But U.S. agents at the embassy decided the woman's account lacked specifics. Headley continued to roam free.
In early 2008, the FBI and CIA began hearing chatter about Mumbai as a Lashkar target. The intelligence may have come from communications intercepts or sources in Pakistan. But privately, some U.S and Indian anti-terrorism officials suspect that U.S. agencies were tracking Headley's movements and communications and picking up bits and pieces about the plot-without realizing he was deeply involved.
U.S. intelligence officials alerted their Indian counterparts in early 2008 that they had general information about a Lashkar plot against Mumbai. Officials insist that they didn't warn the Indians specifically about Headley because they didn't know about his involvement. Although U.S. officials say Headley was no longer working as a DEA informant by early 2008, it isn't clear when that relationship ended or whether it evolved into wider intelligence-gathering. The CIA and the FBI say Headley never worked for them.
Meanwhile, Pakistani security forces stepped up their support of the plot. In March 2008, Mir brought Headley to an important planning session in Muzaffarabad hosted by Lakhvi, Lashkar's military chief. They were joined by Abu Qahafa, a training specialist, and Muzzammil Bhatt, one Lashkar's most feared bosses. The guest of honor was a frogman in the Pakistani navy.
The crew-cut, clean-shaven frogman, identified as Abdur-Rehman, was in his mid-thirties. He spread a maritime chart on the table. For two days the plotters discussed options for sending an attack team to Mumbai by sea and using a hijacked Indian boat for the clandestine journey.
"They had discussed various landing options along the coast of Mumbai," Headley recalled. "The frogman told them that the sea became rough after the month of June. ... [He] told me to check the position of the naval vessels on the Indian side so as to avoid a gunfight."
Soon afterward, Headley met with Major Iqbal in Lahore. The ISI officer already knew about the maritime strategy, Headley said. In that meeting and other conversations, he said, Major Iqbal offered tactical advice: escape routes for the gunmen, setting up a safe house, the hijacking at sea.
In April 2008, Headley's Moroccan wife returned to the U.S. embassy in Islamabad with another, more specific tip. She warned that her husband was on "a special mission." She also linked him to a 2007 train bombing in India that had killed 68 people and that India and the United States blamed on Lashkar at the time, U.S. officials say. Authorities haven't implicated Headley in that still-unsolved attack, however. It is not known how the U.S. Embassy personnel responded to the wife's allegations, but officials say the tip didn't reach the FBI until after the Mumbai attacks.
Headley returned to Mumbai in April. He went on a series of boat tours, using a GPS device that Mir had given him to assess landing sites for the amphibious attack, U.S. court documents say.
In May, U.S. agencies alerted India that new intelligence suggested Lashkar was planning to attack the Taj and other sites frequented by foreigners and Americans, according to U.S. and Indian anti-terrorism officials. A map identifying the U.S. consulate and other targets in Mumbai was found when Indian authorities arrested an accused Lashkar scout.
Despite the pressure of planning his biggest project ever, Mir took time during this period for a rather odd personal enterprise. He underwent plastic surgery on his face, apparently for esthetic reasons rather than to disguise his appearance. Mir's fellow militant chiefs made fun of him afterward, according to the report.
"In my assessment, his face has not changed much," Headley told interrogators. "Zaki ridiculed Sajid by telling him that plastic surgery had widened [his] eyes."
The Stronghold Option
Mir and the other Pakistani masterminds decided on a classic Lashkar "fedayeen raid" in which fighters inflict maximum chaos and casualties.
"Fedayeen" is an Arabic word for guerrilla fighters and means "one who sacrifices himself," but the concept is not the same as a suicide attack. Mir and Major Iqbal still envisioned a scenario in which the attackers would escape in the confusion, according to investigators and documents.
Over the summer, Mir oversaw the work of Abu Qahafa, the veteran Lashkar trainer, who prepared 32 recruits during months of drills in mountain camps and at the group's headquarters outside Lahore, according to investigators and court documents.
Fifteen candidates were sent to Karachi for swimming and nautical instruction. But the youthful country boys had little experience with water. Some got seasick. Some ran away from swim training. Trainers had to bring in eight replacements, Indian and U.S. anti-terrorism officials say.
In June, Mir discussed targets with Headley. For the first time, Mir said he wanted to attack the Chabad House, thereby singling out Jews, Israel and-because the rabbi was American-the United States.
"I was very impressed to know that Chabad House had been put as a target," Headley told interrogators. "Sajid, as I understand is a 'Saudi Salafi.' They consider the Jewish people as the number one target."
Headley then met with Major Iqbal, who "was very happy to know that Chabad House had been chosen," according to the interrogation report.
Headley's final reconnaissance trip lasted the month of July. When he returned, the planning gathered steam. The leaders of Lashkar held a special meeting to discuss the plot. Mir had Headley wait nearby, coming out of the meeting to consult with him about details.
The chiefs decided the attack would be too complex for the fighters to escape. Instead, they would barricade themselves and fight to the death. The planners called this "the stronghold option."
In September, the anti-terrorism chief of the Mumbai police visited the Taj Hotel to discuss new warnings from U.S. intelligence about a Lashkar plot. Hotel management beefed up security, Indian officials say.
At about the same time, Headley's Moroccan wife complained about her husband to "senior police officials" in Lahore. Headley said Pakistani police jailed him for eight days, but his account doesn't specify the charges. His Pakistani father-in-law put up bail and the ISI intervened as well, the interrogation report says.
"Major Iqbal also helped me [in] this case," Headley said.
A Pakistani official denied the story. He blamed U.S. officials for failing to tell Pakistan about the intelligence the United States had shared with India in 2008.
"Perhaps with Pakistan alerted, the plots could have been avoided," the Pakistani official said.
Lashkar's first two attempts to attack Mumbai failed.
The plotters had isolated the 10-man attack team in a safe house in Karachi and outlined their mission, using videos, photos and maps. But the first boat the ISI gave them hit a rock and sank soon after departing in September. A second attempt foundered when an Indian vessel escaped the attempted hijacking at sea, according to investigators and the Indian report.
In November, Headley went to Karachi to meet with Mir, who updated him on the status of the operation. Headley had no contact with the attack team, though Mir showed him photos of the youthful gunmen, according to documents and officials.
On November 18, American officials told Indian intelligence that a suspicious ship might be en route to Mumbai. The Indians requested more information, the Indian anti-terrorism official said.
At 8 a.m. on Nov. 22 the attack squad finally left Karachi, accompanied by Mir and several other chiefs. At sea, the group hijacked an Indian fishing trawler and murdered the crew. Mir later said he had killed two Indian sailors himself.
The attack squad set sail for Mumbai in the fishing trawler. On the evening of Nov. 26, they reached a point about five miles offshore and transferred to an 11-seat dinghy. They landed in Cuffe Parade, a slum scouted by Headley where lights, phones and police were scarce.
The bosses had returned to their remote command post in the safe house in Karachi. The room was stocked with computers, televisions, voice-over-Internet phones purchased from a New Jersey company and satellite phones manned by Mir and five other handlers, according to U.S. officials and an Indian intelligence report.
The assault on Mumbai began about 9:30 p.m. Two-man teams hit four of the targets within a half-hour. Assault rifles chattered; time bombs exploded in taxis and at strategically chosen sites; panic engulfed the city. Despite the repeated U.S. warnings, Indian security forces were caught off-guard. Elite National Security Guard commandos didn't fly in from Delhi until the next morning.
At the Karachi command post, Mir took a moment to send a telephone text message to Headley at home in Lahore. The message told Headley to turn on his TV.
Voices in the Night
As the bloodshed intensified, Indian intelligence officers frantically checked known phone numbers associated with Lashkar. They were able to intercept and record nearly 300 calls. Mir's voice dominated the conversations, according to officials and documents. Thanks to Headley, he knew the targets inside-out.
The phone handlers in Karachi made the attack interactive, relaying reports about TV coverage to the gunmen and even searching the Internet for the name of a banker they had taken hostage. After killing 10 people at the historic Leopold Cafe, a second assault team joined the two gunmen at the Taj. Using the alias Wassi, Mir oversaw the assault on the Taj Hotel, the prime target, where 32 people died.
"They wanted to see the Taj Mahal burn," a senior U.S. law enforcement official said. "It was all choreographed with the media in mind."
Mir chided a gunman who grew distracted by the luxuries of a suite instead of setting the hotel ablaze, according to one intercepted call.
"We can't watch if there aren't any flames," said Mir, who was viewing the action on live television. "Where are they?"
"It's amazing," the gunman exclaimed. "The windows are huge. It's got two kitchens, a bath and a little shop."
"Start the fire, my brother," Mir insisted. "Start a proper fire, that's the important thing."
At the nearby Oberoi Hotel, two attackers hunted Americans and Britons, demanding passports at gunpoint, according to U.S. investigators. They stormed the restaurant and shot Sandeep "Sam" Jeswani, 43, an Indian-American customer-relations director for a radiation therapy company in Wisconsin. At another table, they executed Alan Scherr, 58, and his daughter Naomi, 13. The former art professor from Virginia had taken his daughter on a spiritual pilgrimage to India.
The gunmen killed 33 people at the Oberoi, then took refuge in Room 1856. Their handlers instructed them to divide ammunition magazines and keep their weapons on burst mode to conserve bullets. After one gunman was killed, Mir encouraged the other to go out in a blaze of glory.
"For your mission to end successfully, you must be killed," Mir said in one of the intercepted calls. "God is waiting for you in heaven. . . . Fight bravely, and put your phone in your pocket, but leave it on. We like to know what's going on."
Another team rampaged through Mumbai's central train station, killing 58 and wounding 104. Their tactics reflected Lashkar's expert training. They avoided running, which is tiring and churns up emotions. They stayed within arm's length in a "buddy pair" combat formation, a Lashkar signature technique that enabled them to support one another psychologically, sustain fire and exchange ammunition.
Unlike the others, however, the duo at the train station failed to call the command post. Instead of barricading themselves with hostages as ordered, they left the station. It was a dramatic error that underscored the crucial role of the handlers' round-the-clock phone instructions, their ingenious method of compensating for the limitations of their fighters.
"The Mumbai attackers were well-trained, but they were not that highly skilled," said Lt. Kevin Yorke of the intelligence division of the New York Police Department, who did a tactical study of the attacks.
In the running gunfights that followed, the chief of Mumbai's anti-terrorist unit was killed along with an attacker. The other gunman, a diminutive 21-year-old with a fourth-grade education, was captured. The confession of that lone surviving attacker proved vital to the investigation.
Death Calls at Chabad House
The six-story Jewish center known as the Chabad House was attacked about an hour after the assault began.
Rabbi Gavriel Holtzberg, the red-bearded, 29-year-old director, and his pregnant wife, Rivka, 28, had entertained visitors in the second-floor dining room that night. Two rabbis from New York, Aryeh Leibish Teitelbaum and Ben-Zion Chroman, had stopped in to say goodbye as they wrapped up a trip to India to certify kosher food products.
When Holtzberg heard shots and screams, he grabbed his cellphone and called a security officer at the Israeli consulate.
"The situation is bad," he said.
Then the line went dead.
The gunmen shot the Holtzbergs and the visiting rabbis. The Holtzbergs' son, 2-year-old Moishele, wandered among corpses and debris until the next day, when his Indian nanny crept upstairs, grabbed him and escaped.
News that one of his men had been captured reached Mir in the command post. Mir decided to try to win the attacker's release by using the two female hostages who were still alive at Chabad House: Yocheved Orpaz, the Israeli grandmother, and Norma Rabinovich, the Mexican tourist.
Mir told a gunman to hand Rabinovich the phone. He ordered her to propose a prisoner exchange to Israeli diplomats. She reported back to him after her conversation with the Israelis, addressing him as "sir."
"I was talking to the consulate a few minutes ago," she said, her voice shaking. "They are calling the prime minister and the army in India from the embassy in Delhi."
Mir's serene tone made him sound like a helpful bureaucrat.
"Don't worry then, ah, just sit back and relax and don't worry and just wait for them to make contact," he told her.
Hours later, Mir gave the order to kill her. A gunman named Akasha sounded reluctant. Mir turned icy when he learned the two women were still alive. He demanded: "Have you done the job or not?"
Akasha executed the women as Mir listened, according to the transcript. The gunfire echoed over the phone.
The next morning, helicopter-borne commandos swooped onto the roof. Mir gave real-time orders as he watched the gunfight on television. Akasha reported in a hoarse, strangled voice that he had been wounded in the arm and leg.
"God protect you," Mir said. "Did you manage to hit any of their guys?"
"We got one commando. Pray that God will accept my martyrdom."
"Praise God. Praise God. God keep you."
The three-day siege of Mumbai triggered international outrage.
The United Nations put Lashkar chiefs on a blacklist. Pakistan detained Hafiz Saeed, the group's founder, for another in a series of short-lived house arrests. U.S. diplomats worked to prevent India from military retaliation. Western authorities scrambled to reassess the threat from Lashkar.
Although the recorded conversations between handlers and gunmen were broadcast worldwide, Mir did not appear concerned that the notoriety would expose him to arrest. During a visit to Headley's home, he looked tired but was boastful and talkative.
"Sajid made me hear the audios of the Mumbai attack," Headley recalled. "Sajid played...the Mumbai video where along with others Sajid was instructing the attackers from the Karachi control room. I heard Sajid's voice and he was instructing the attacker in the Chabad House to kill the women."
Mir and Headley were already at work on their next target: a Danish newspaper that in 2005 had published cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad. The planning had begun before Mumbai, at a crucial meeting in November 2008. After maintaining a careful distance from each other for almost two years, Headley's handlers from the ISI and Lashkar, Mir and Major Iqbal, paid him a joint visit in Lahore, the report says.
"This is the first time Major Iqbal and Sajid came together to my home," the American said. "We discussed about the Denmark project."
Mir directed and funded Headley's subsequent reconnaissance on the newspaper's offices in Denmark, according to the report and U.S. court papers. Major Iqbal's previously undisclosed involvement in the high-stakes meeting to launch an attack in the heart of Europe is a "pretty seismic" revelation, said Sajjan Gohel of the Asia-Pacific Foundation, a London-based security consulting firm.
"They take it to the next phase," Gohel said. "Either the hierarchy was aware or there was no accountability."
Experts say Iqbal's visit alongside Mir sent a message of trust to Headley. But the extent to which the major approved of the Danish plot, and the degree to which he was acting on his own, remain unclear.
"I think this was a particularly sensitive discussion, and somebody above Iqbal's pay-grade told him to sit in and be present for the conversation between Headley and Mir," said Faddis, the CIA counter-terror veteran.
Indian anti-terror officials think the ISI gave the operation its blessing, even if it did not participate directly. There is no record that Pakistani intelligence ever warned Denmark about Headley or the plot.
Mir gave Headley a thumb drive with information about Denmark and the Jyllands Posten newspaper, according to U.S. court documents and officials. They christened the new plot "The Mickey Mouse Project."
In December, Headley suggested killing only the cartoonist and an editor. Mir disagreed. Despite the uproar over Mumbai, he seemed eager to take an audacious terrorism campaign into Europe, according to documents and investigators.
"All Danes are responsible," Mir declared, according to U.S. officials and documents.
Across the ocean, the FBI was pursuing yet another tip about Headley. A friend of Headley's mother in Philadelphia had come forward after seeing news about the Mumbai attacks. She told agents that she believed Headley had been fighting alongside Pakistani militants for years. Agents conducted an inquiry in December but then put it on hold because they thought Headley was out of the country, U.S. officials said.
Weeks later, Headley traveled from Chicago to Denmark. Using his business cover again, he visited the newspaper's offices in Copenhagen and Aarhus and inquired about advertising his immigration firm. He shot video of the area and - because Mir mistakenly believed the editor was Jewish - of a nearby synagogue. He took careful notes, just as he had done when scouting in Mumbai, according to U.S. court documents.
But a few weeks later, Mir put the Denmark operation on hold. Pakistani authorities had finally arrested a big fish: Lakhvi, Lashkar's military chief. The ISI also arrested Abu Al Qama, a Lashkar boss who had allegedly worked the phones with Mir at the command post for the Mumbai attacks, along with some low-level henchmen.
The ISI Reacts
The way the ISI handled the arrests deepens the mystery and ambiguity surrounding its role in the Mumbai case.
The agency held Lakhvi in a safe house for some time before putting him in jail, according to investigators. And Headley said Gen. Ahmed Suja Pasha, the ISI's director general, met with Lakhvi after he was jailed.
"Pasha had visited him to understand the Mumbai attack conspiracy," the report quotes Headley as saying, without further elaboration.
Pakistani officials deny that Pasha, one of the most powerful men in Pakistan, made the jailhouse visit. U.S. and Indian officials and experts are more willing to believe the story. Headley's language suggests that Pasha, who had become director only two months before Mumbai, was surprised by the attack or at least by its dimensions. This reinforces the U.S. view that top ISI brass weren't involved in the plot.
Indian officials disagree. They believe Pasha visited the jailed Lashkar chief to ensure his silence and obedience.
"I think Pasha was aware of the plot beforehand, or he is not chief of the ISI," the Indian counter-terror official said.
Meanwhile, Major Iqbal cut off contact with Headley and told him to get rid of compromising evidence, according to U.S. court documents and investigators. The ISI handler said, "the Mumbai investigation was getting bigger and hotter," and a suspect had revealed "ISI cooperation" in the plot, the Indian interrogation report says.
But Headley did not sever all his links to the ISI. He remained in touch with Ali, the ISI major who had first recruited him, until June 2009, even during trips back to the United States, he said.
As for Mir, he stayed cool. Despite the evidence implicating him in the attacks, he visited Lakhvi, his Lashkar boss, in jail, according to the Indian interrogation report. If true, this reinforces suspicions that Mir was either an ISI officer or had powerful protectors, investigators say.
Headley's Final Months
Despite Lashkar's decision to hold off, Headley remained fixated on the plot against the Danish newspaper. In the spring of 2009, he gravitated increasingly toward al-Qaeda, according to U.S. and Indian court documents.
Lashkar veterans who had defected to al-Qaeda connected him with al-Qaeda's chief of operations, Ilyas Kashmiri. At a sit-down in May, the veteran Pakistani militant offered to provide Headley with operatives in Europe for the attack. Kashmiri envisioned them decapitating hostages and throwing heads out of the newspaper office windows, U.S. court documents say.
In August Headley returned to Denmark for more reconnaissance. He also went to Britain and Sweden to discuss the newspaper plot with Kashmiri's operatives, according to U.S. and Indian documents.
Despite occasional tensions, Headley stayed in touch with Mir. They discussed new reconnaissance in India as well as personal matters. The American asked about Mir's baby son, referring to the boy in e-mails as "polar cub." Headley also urged Mir to return to the Denmark plot, according to U.S. documents and officials.
In an e-mail, Headley described his trip to Copenhagen. He jokingly complimented Mir about his "music videos" - code for a TV program about Mumbai that had featured Mir's voice directing the attacks.
With affectionate exasperation, Mir warned his operative to be careful, according to documents and officials.
"Your skin is dear to me, more than my own," Mir wrote.
In September 2009, documents show that Headley again discussed joining forces with Mir for the Denmark attack, a sign that Mir was still operating freely. But Headley's luck was running out. His contact with two known al-Qaeda suspects in the English town of Derby had put him on the radar of British intelligence, who alerted their U.S. counterparts. In October, the FBI arrested Headley in Chicago, where he had moved his Pakistani wife and children.
The FBI had been investigating Mumbai since a team rushed there right after the attacks. FBI leads- phone analysis, forensics, money trails - had been instrumental in the Indian and Pakistani investigations.
Now Headley gave U.S. agents a treasure trove of evidence and intelligence. He quickly confessed and spent days describing his exploits, according to U.S. officials.
In March he pleaded guilty to helping organize the Mumbai attacks and the Denmark plot. As part of the plea deal to avoid the death penalty, he agreed to cooperate. Officials say his confession and the contents of his computer showed he had scouted scores of targets, including American ones, around the world. They say he did not do reconnaissance in the United States, but they noted a chilling detail: His immigration consulting firm had offices in the Empire State Building.
Headley helped investigators overcome a basic problem. American agencies lacked data on Lashkar: photo books, organizational charts, profiles.
"The intelligence was very thin before Mumbai," said Ackerman, whose House Foreign Affairs subcommittee held hearings on Lashkar last year.
Faddis contends the intelligence community did not dedicate enough resources to Lashkar.
"It's a classic problem in the U.S. intelligence community: failing to anticipate new threats and focusing completely on the one that already hit us," he said.
A U.S. counter-terrorism official disagreed, saying: "It's simply wrong to suggest that we've underestimated [Lashkar]."
It seems clear, however, that the government did underestimate Headley. A recent review by the director of national intelligence found that U.S. agencies had received six warnings about Headley from his wives and associates from October 2001 to December 2008. Yet federal agents didn't place him on a terrorist watch list or open a full investigation until July 2009, eight months after the Mumbai attacks.
Between June 3 and June 9, investigators with India's National Investigation Agency questioned Headley for 34 hours in Chicago in the presence of U.S. prosecutors, FBI agents and his lawyers. Headley's account, contained in the interrogation report obtained by ProPublica, opened a rare door into a secretive underworld of spies and militants.
A Pakistani official said the Indian version was "totally distorted and fabricated."
"There was no involvement of the ISI whatsoever," the official said. "Nor did any serving official interact with Headley or any of the perpetrators."
But U.S. investigators say much of Headley's account is credible and essentially repeats his account in the federal case in Chicago. The investigators believe Major Iqbal was a serving member of the ISI and that several other officers also had contact with Headley.
FBI agents and their Indian counterparts have spent more than a year checking Headley's story against other evidence: witness testimony, phone and e-mail intercepts, travel and credit card records.
"Most of the Headley statement is consistent with what we know about the ISI and its operations," the Indian counter-terrorism official said. "And it's consistent with what he told the FBI and what they told us."
Physical evidence backs up Headley's confession. The FBI identified a phone number that investigators believe connects the American, Mir and ISI officers. Headley called Pakistani officers at that number. It was also called by an accused ISI spy who went on the secret mission with Mir in India in 2005, investigators say.
The Quest for Justice
The Mumbai case could put Washington and Islamabad on a collision course.
Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. has vowed to prosecute the killings of the six Americans as required by law. The prosecutions for the Mumbai and Denmark plots are being led by Patrick J. Fitzgerald, the U.S. Attorney in Chicago. The trial of Headley's Chicago-based associate, who is charged with providing the immigration consulting firm as a cover for reconnaissance, is set for May.
But at least half a dozen suspected masterminds of the Mumbai attacks are still at large. It's unlikely Pakistan would extradite any suspects to the United States, officials say. And Pakistani courts tend not to convict accused radical Islamists.
The Pakistani government denies any official link to the 2008 attacks.
"Why should there have been involvement of the Pakistani government in the Mumbai attacks at a time when Pakistan and India were dealing seriously with issues between them?" said the senior Pakistani official. "The Mumbai incident provided a pretext for India to shy away from settling the contentious issues between the two countries."
The question of Pakistani government involvement drives a high-stakes debate about whether the ISI participates in terrorist activity.
"For the first time you have an American talking about this agency not just being aware of, but involved in, a terrorist plot," said Gohel, the London security consultant. "What have the last nine years since 9/11 been about? And all the money from the U.S. taxpayers to fund and stabilize Pakistan? Is that money being used for terrorism?"
Some Western anti-terrorism officials think that, at most, Pakistani intelligence officers provided limited state support for the Mumbai attacks. A senior U.S. counterterrorism official believes a few mid-level Pakistani officials had an inkling of the plot but that its dimensions surprised them. U.S. intelligence officials do not see evidence that ISI chiefs made an "institutional, top-down decision" to attack Mumbai, another U.S. official said. Some feel that Headley's nuanced narrative tends to exonerate the top spymasters.
"We should not assume that simply because the ISI policy is to sustain Lashkar that the leadership is aware of every detail in terms of the group's operations," said Tankel, the author of the forthcoming book on Lashkar. "The ISI policy is not to allow Lashkar to cross certain red lines, but sometimes the interpretation by ISI handlers of what constitutes an acceptable operation is different than that of the leadership."
There is also speculation that the government of President Asif Ali Zardari may have been a secondary target of the Mumbai plotters, because of his overtures to India and his opposition to extremism.
"Perhaps it was done by people who didn't like the way the ISI and the army were moving, particularly in Kashmir," a European official said. "Maybe it was a rogue operation destabilizing the Pakistanis as well as the Indians."
In contrast, other Western and Indian anti-terrorism officials cite the in-depth scouting, amphibious landing and sophisticated communications as signs of Pakistan's involvement. They say Lashkar's history and Headley's disclosures about its relationship with the ISI make it hard to believe that Pakistani military leaders weren't aware of the plan.
Indian leaders go as far as accusing the ISI of planning and executing the attacks alongside Lashkar.
"It was not just a peripheral role," Indian Home Secretary G.K. Pillai said publicly in July. "They were literally controlling and coordinating it from the beginning till the end."
Pakistani leaders deny the allegations and say they have gotten tougher on Lashkar, freezing its assets and appointing an administrator at its headquarters.
"The government is working to prevent the preaching of extremism, bring them into the mainstream and implement curriculum changes," the senior Pakistani official said.
Critics call the crackdown largely symbolic, however. It remains to be seen whether Mir, Major Iqbal and other suspected plotters will ever be arrested or successfully prosecuted. An Indian court convicted the lone surviving gunman in June. But the Pakistani trial of the Lashkar military chief and six lower-level suspects seems hopelessly stalled. U.S. officials say.
Meanwhile, the Lashkar camps are still training aspiring fighters, the senior U.S. counterterrorism official said recently. Pakistani leaders seem reluctant to confront the group and risk backlash from its trained fighters and the vast support base it has built through its charities and social programs.
Lashkar's professionalism, global networks and increasing focus on Western targets have made it one of the most dangerous forces in terrorism, many investigators say.
"The American side is telling us that Lashkar is as much of a threat as al-Qaeda or the Taliban," the senior Pakistani official said.
Recent warnings of Mumbai-style plots by al-Qaeda in Europe reflect Lashkar's influence in the convergence of militant groups that a British official calls "the jihadist soup in Pakistan." The arrest last month in Copenhagen of suspects accused of plotting a hostage-taking attack on the Danish newspaper has suspected links to Kashmiri, the al-Qaeda operations chief. The foiled attack may have been an attempt to unleash the plan developed by Headley, Western counter-terror officials say.
Tensions between Washington and Islamabad worsened in December, when the CIA abruptly withdrew its station chief from Pakistan after his identity was made public in a lawsuit there. U.S. officials suspect that the ISI leaked the station chief's name, possibly as "tit-for-tat" after the ISI and its chiefs were named as plaintiffs in a recent civil lawsuit filed in New York by relatives of victims of the Mumbai attacks, a U.S. official said.
More than two years after Mumbai, the families of the victims are still waiting for authorities to keep their promises of justice.
"We are not going to give up," said Moshe Holtzberg, a brother of the slain rabbi. "The families want to see full justice being done for all those organizations and individuals involved in the Mumbai attacks."
Our Hottest Stories
- Citing ‘Distraction,’ Quality Forum CEO Resigns Board Seats
- Health Quality Group Rethinks Drug Endorsement
- One Third of Skilled Nursing Patients Harmed in Treatment
- Drilling for Certainty: The Latest in Fracking Health Studies
- U.S. Lags Behind World in Temp Worker Protections
- Assisted Living Giant Is Focus of Federal Probe
- Voting Rights Advocates Try to Put Oversight Back on the Map
- How Exactly Do Colleges Allocate Their Financial Aid? They Won’t Say.
- FDA Opens Review of Rules for Over-the-Counter Drugs, Including Acetaminophen
- Freed of Disclosure Requirement, Drug Maker Pulls Doctor Payments Offline
- U.S. Lags Behind World in Temp Worker Protections
- Interview: How You Can Help Find an MIA
- A Modern Day Harvest of Shame
- The Military is Leaving the Missing Behind
- Drilling for Certainty: The Latest in Fracking Health Studies
- Reading Guide: Crisis in Ukraine
- Why Hospitals Are Failing Civilians Who Get PTSD
- Medicare’s Drug Program Needs Stronger Protections Against Fraud, Watchdog Says
- As Full Disclosure Nears, Doctors’ Pay for Drug Talks Plummets
- Freed of Disclosure Requirement, Drug Maker Pulls Doctor Payments Offline