Journalism in the Public Interest

Witness: Pakistani Intel Officer Ordered Hit on Mumbai Jews

Confessed terrorist David Coleman Headley says he met with six Pakistani intelligence officers during his years of terrorist activity. In court on Tuesday he said he was “pleased” when he learned that 166 people had been slaughtered in the Mumbai attacks.


The Chabad House seen through a window in Mumbai on December 24, 2008. The Jewish community center was overrun by heavily-armed gunmen during the 2008 Mumbai attacks. (AFP PHOTO/Sajjad HUSSAIN/Getty Images)

This report is part of a ProPublica and PBS FRONTLINE investigation. A version of this article appeared in the Washington Post.

An officer in Pakistan’s intelligence service chose a Jewish center as a target for the 2008 Mumbai attacks and then helped launch a new plot against Denmark, according to the star witness in a terror trial in Chicago.

In his second day of testimony, David Coleman Headley, a confessed Pakistani-American terrorist, revealed more details about close ties between Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate (ISI) and the Lashkar-i-Taiba terror group, which allegedly carried out the attacks that killed 166 people, including six Americans.

Headley said his ISI handler, a man known only as Major Iqbal, made key decisions and was a mastermind of the plot along with Lashkar chiefs. Major Iqbal deployed him on the last of five reconnaissance missions in India to scout targets that Iqbal said would definitely include the Chabad House, a Jewish community center where gunmen later killed three American rabbis, Headley testified. The pregnant wife of one of the rabbis was also killed.

“Major Iqbal told me the Chabad House would be added on whatever list [of targets] there was because it was a front office for the Mossad,” Israel’s intelligence agency, Headley said. He added that Major Iqbal “seemed upset the [Mumbai] airport was not included” as a target.

Nothing suggests that the claim about the Mossad was true.

Headley described in understated tones how terrorist leaders congratulated him for his work casing luxury hotels and other targets chosen to ensure Americans and Jews would die. Asked his reaction to the three-day televised slaughter, he responded: “I was pleased.”

The 50-year-old businessman has pleaded guilty to conducting months of crucial reconnaissance in Mumbai and for the Denmark plot. He is the star witness in the trial of his accused accomplice, Tahawwur Rana, in Chicago federal court. U.S. prosecutors have also indicted Major Iqbal and three Lashkar chiefs, all but one of whom remain fugitives.

Pakistani officials deny any links to terrorism. They say Headley's allegations are not credible because of his past as a drug dealer and DEA informant.

But the slaying of Osama bin Laden in a Pakistani military town has worsened longtime suspicions of Pakistan and the stakes are high in a case built largely on a witness with an admitted pattern of duplicity. The damage to the U.S.-Pakistani relationship could be profound if the trial produces powerful evidence that Pakistani officers took part in a plot to kill Americans.

“A lot of explanatory power has been put in the hands of David Headley, an undoubtedly flawed individual,” said Stephen Tankel, author of a forthcoming book Storming the World Stage: the Story of Lashkar-e-Taiba. “The US government clearly has confidence in Headley's testimony and has been able to support it with strong evidence related to his communications with men he asserts were ISI officers. ... It will be interesting to see if the prosecution introduces further evidence independent of Headley that these men were in the ISI, as that would seal an already strong case for official involvement at some level.”

On Tuesday prosecutors presented details about the apparent involvement of serving intelligence officers. Headley testified that Major Iqbal and Lashkar used him as a shared operative as he tried to infiltrate Shiv Sena, a right-wing Hindu political party in India.

An email from Major Iqbal to Headley showed the officer trying to balance the twin missions of collecting military intelligence and developing terrorist targets. Asked by Headley if he should try to cultivate a Shiv Sena public relations official he had befriended, Iqbal responded that he was not sure if the potential Indian source would be productive for espionage but said he might still be worth pursuing for Lashkar, which he called “your organization.”

“What all advantages can we get from this person except strengthening our cover,” Iqbal wrote. “Will this all be generating worthwhile information related to military or forces. ... If he is of any use to your organization, you are at liberty to handle even without my information or as you desire.”

The testimony Tuesday also indicated that Iqbal was at least aware of a terrorist plot to strike the heart of Europe. Headley described a meeting in late 2008 in which Iqbal and Sajid Mir, his Lashkar handler, came together to his house in Lahore for the first time. Until then, the two had coordinated the American’s missions in tandem but separately.

During the sit-down, Mir told Headley he would be sent to Denmark to scout for an attack on the Jyllands-Posten newspaper, which had enraged Muslims by printing cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed.

“We were all angry about it,” Headley testified. “Major Iqbal said he was surprised such an attack had not taken place already.”

Headley went to Denmark in January 2009, posing as an immigration consultant in visits to newspaper advertising representatives in Copenhagen and Aarhus. Two months later, however, Lashkar put the Denmark plot on hold. Major Iqbal cut off contact with Headley, instructing him to lay low because Pakistani authorities had put heat on Lashkar after the Mumbai attacks.

Soon, another ISI officer named Major Sameer Ali contacted Headley to try to recruit him for new operations and remained in touch with him until at least August, according to Headley’s testimony and emails between the two presented in court. The mention of Major Ali in the trial brings the number of ISI officers Headley has described meeting to at least six, according to testimony and a report on Headley’s interrogation by Indian investigators.

Headley met with Ali and a Colonel Shah in the ISI that April in Lahore, according to investigators, though that information was not presented in court Tuesday.

By then, however, Headley had shifted allegiance to al-Qaida and away from the ISI, urged on by a friend and former Pakistani military officer known as Pasha, who had left Lashkar for al-Qaida.

“He said they were conducting the ISI’s jihad and we should conduct God’s jihad,” Headley said.

When Pasha was arrested by the ISI a few months later, Headley wrote to Major Ali inquiring about his friend’s fate, according to testimony. Headley said Pasha had once worked with a colonel in the ISI, which he referred to in an email as “your department.” Major Ali responded on August 4, 2009, to inform him of the release of the al-Qaida operative, who remains a fugitive indicted in the Chicago case.

“Your friend that u asked about has reached home,” Major Ali reassured Headley.

Even if the trial paints a convincing portrait of ties between ISI officers and terrorists, the analysis must be careful and measured, experts say.

“To date there is no evidence the ISI leadership was aware of the Mumbai attacks, or at least of their scope and scale, which suggests Major Iqbal and possibly others were acting without sanction,” Tankel said. “Whether they were given excessive autonomy or were engaging in outright rogue behavior is a very important question and it will be interesting to see if the trial provides an answer.”


“To date there is no evidence the ISI leadership was aware of the Mumbai attacks, or at least of their scope and scale..”

To date there is no evidence the Pakistani military leadership (the real masters of Pakistan) was aware of Osama bin Laden’s presence in Abbottabad, or at least of his ongoing activities and links…

You can choose the world you see, and see the world you choose.

Anthony D'Souza

May 25, 2011, 6:20 p.m.

(1) “To date there is no evidence the ISI leadership was aware of the Mumbai attacks…..”.

(2) To date there is no evidence that the ISI/ Pakistani military leadership (the real masters of Pakistan) was aware of Osama bin Laden’s presence in the Army town of Abbottabad, next to the Military Training Academy in a high security zone, living for 6 years in a house which was 8 times larger than neighboring houses, with 18 feet walls topped with barbed wire fencing! The Army Officers and policemen, who passed that house dozens of times on daily basis, thought it was some child care centre! This was such a high security area, because it had three army regiments with a depot of nuclear weapons stored in it! The visitors and residents of the town are subjected to extra security scrutinies, like ID checks etc. And here, the ‘Sword of Islam’ lived for 6 years with his three wives, dozens of children, couriers, security staff, et al. And to date there is NO EVIDENCE that ISI knew about his presence there!

(3) The Pakistani nuclear scientist AQ Khan caught selling sensitive nuclear weapons technology (which he had partly stolen from Europe and partly procured from the Chinese) to Iran, Libya and N Korea, again the Pakistanis said - There is no evidence that he did these activities with the knowledge of Military establishment! The world knows the Pakistani nuclear establishment is a high security industry under strong controls of the Army and ISI. Even civilian rulers like the President and Prime Minister do not have access into those establishments! Even a pin from the nuclear establishments can not move without approval from Pakistani Army. And they say, AQ Khan acted on his own, without our approval. Whereas, AQ Khan himself admitted on a number of occasions that he did not do anything without approval from Pakistani Army.

(4) Mumbai serial blasts of 1993, Mumbai train bombings of 2006, Parliament attacks in New Delhi, other bomb blasts carried out by Indian Mujahideen with logistical and financial support from Pakistan, for everything India had enough information about ISI footprints. But every time we heard - To date there is no evidence….. The UN designated global terrorist Dawood Ibrahim (responsible for 1993 Mumbai blasts) is living in the posh Cliffton Area of Karachi, under protection of Pakistani Army. A couple of years ago he married his daughter to a son of a famous Pakistani sportsman. This year he married his son in Karachi. But they say, to date there is no evidence….

—This is a spy agency world of intelligence, mixed with international terrorism, jihad and diplomacy. Do they want a clearcut paper trail and eye witnesses (just like in civilian courts) to prove the crimes of this rogue nation called Pakistan? What evidence are they looking for?

It is time, the pariah rogue jihadi nation called Pakistan ( with it’s ISI and Army) are declared as ‘Terrorist entity’, strong sanctions imposed, and their nuclear arsenal is dismantled, to make this world a safe place. The ISI should face a trial in the United Nations or in ICJ, for crimes against humanity and for terrorism. A clear message should go to the terrorists and their sponsors, that they will be smoked out, wherever they hide.

Anthony D'Souza

May 26, 2011, 2:32 p.m.

Pakistani Army/ISI has grouped the terrorists into three categories - (1) Which are anti-Pakistan terrorists, like Pakistani Taleban TTP, (2) Which are neutral to Pakistan and India, like some Chechen and Arab terrorists, (3) Which are anti-Indian and anti-Afghan like LeT/JeM/HM/HuJI/HeM/Al-Badr/Haqqani Network/Afghan Taleban, etc which are treated as strategic assets of Pakistan. Pakistan catches a few of the major terrorists from the second category to get military/financial rewards from USA. Obviously Pakistan wages a fierce war against the first category of terrorists, as they are treated as foes of Pakistan. As for the third category, Pakistan controls their indoctrination, training, logistics, finance, co-ordination, plotting and infiltration into India and Afghanistan. Various human and electronic intelligence sources show 43 training camps for the third category of terrorists in Pakistan. These terrorist manufacturing factories produce thousands of terrorists each year, which are well-armed and highly indoctrinated in jihadi terrorism. From 1989 till date, India has so far liquidated about 25000 of these terrorists in Kashmir alone. For Pakistan, some of these third category of terrorists (which it treats as strategic assets to wage proxy wars) turn into Frankenstein monsters and turn their guns against Pakistan by joining the first category of terrorists. Though ISI tries hard to control them, many of the ‘strategic assets’ turn rogue to become human bombers and fight against their own masters. Pakistan is busy fighting a loosing war against such Frankenstein mobsters created by themselves. Unfortunately, Pakistan refuses to learn from it’s mistakes and continues to churn out thousands of the theirs category of terrorists even now. It seems Pakistan is hell-bent on self-destruction due to it’s obsessive hatred against India in general and non-Muslims like Hindus, Jews and Christians in particular.

Very detailed comments. thx.

Mohammed Atta

June 6, 2011, 11:10 a.m.

Pakistan will be destroyed according to old Islamic prophecies and Nostradamu (Centuries and Quatrains) .  It will be a horrible event to behold but God’s justice will be done on those murderers that live there and who plan incessant murderers each and every day due to their hatred of non-Muslim peoples.

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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