CHICAGO (CN) – The government’s key witness in the trial against an alleged supporter of the bloody rampage that hit Mumbai in 2008 told jurors Tuesday that news of his friend’s indictment made him realize Chicago-based businessman Tahawwur Rana was “stuck in this thing for no reason.”
Following his decision to testify against Rana, admitted Lashkar-e-Taiba member and Mumbai attack plotter David Headley allegedly told his wife: “I made a fool of [Rana]. The poor fellow should be released; he is stuck in this thing for no reason.”
“[I] made a fool of him in getting him to assist me,” Headley added as Rana’s defense attorney questioned him on the witness stand.
Defense attorney Patrick Blegen chimed in: “A fool is a stupid person right? Somebody who doesn’t know what’s going on?”
“I mean I fooled him,” Headley said.
With his short gray hair slicked back behind a slightly receding hairline, deep-set eyes peering out from an impassive face, and a stocky linebacker’s frame draped in a dark windbreaker, Headley is the picture of a stereotypical tough guy at the onset of middle age, the look of an extra from “The Sopranos.”
The contrast with the bright-eyed, professorial Rana could not be greater.
As Tuesday marked the fifth and final day of Headley’s testimony, Rana’s team tried to clear up any remaining ambiguities and undermine the government’s claim that Rana knew his business, First World Immigration, served as Headley’s cover for terrorist activities.
Headley has admitted to loaning several thousand dollars to Rana’s struggling business. Rana’s defense team said Headley used this leverage to obtain full control of First World Immigration’s foreign offices so that he could use them as cover for his work with Lashkar. Though Headley accepted large amounts of money from Lashkar members, “not a penny” went to Rana, the defense claimed.
Headley also testified that he obtained a visa through Rana, but did this only “to save money and [for] convenience.”
While those involved in Lashkar’s plots had access to Headley’s many surveillance videos of Mumbai and Copenhagen, the plotter confirmed that Rana “never saw a single second” of the tapes.
The government has also pointed to Rana’s relationship with Headley’s Lashkar contacts as further evidence of his complicity. One such contact, known by the alias Major Iqbal, is thought to work for Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency.
Headley admitted Tuesday, however, that he put Rana in contact with the so-called Major Iqbal so that the two could discuss Rana’s AWOL status with the Pakistani army. Iqbal and other Pakistani investors were also interested in talking to Rana about his plan for a “meat business,” Headley said.
Rana’s team also had Headley further explain the differences between Rana’s status as a Deobandi Muslim and Headley’s adherence to the Salafi faith. More radical Salafis, such as those who belong to Lashkar, are usually referred to as Wahhabi.
Blegen asked if “Lashkar [would] entrust [knowledge of] a massive terror attack to a non-Salafi.”
Headley replied, “Probably not” – a response he soon upgraded to “definitely not.”
But the defense mainly focused Tuesday on revealing that Headley had spent the past week lying on the stand to avoid capital punishment and extradition to India, Pakistan or Denmark.
As evidence of this, the defense attorneys played interrogation videos recorded by the FBI after Headley’s October 2009 arrest.
In stark contrast to his composure on the stand, Headley, a Washington D.C.-born U.S. citizen, appears very agitated on film, trying to negotiate by offering up Lashkar associates. He even offers to plant a tracking device on Ilyas Kashmiri so that American drones can find him. In other scenes from the two-week interrogation, Headley pantomimes throwing a touchdown pass and hitting a home-run swing as he offers up other contacts.
During these 14 days, Headley continuously said Rana “didn’t know” about anything. But when U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald clamped down, Headley decided to “fill in some gaps,” defense attorneys said.
Though Headley offered to testify against every known Lashkar affiliate, this was not enough to prevent his extradition or to avoid capital punishment. After all, most of these people would not even be available for prosecution in the United States, the attorneys pressed. In fact, most are named in the indictment along with Rana.
The defense’s line of questioning implied that Headley ultimately had to choose one of three people to sell out: his wife, his brother or Rana.
Rana, as a Pakistan-born citizen of Canada living in Chicago, fit the bill, according to the defense.
“You made some false statements [while in FBI custody], didn’t you?” Blegen asked.
“I can’t recall,” Headley answered drily, “but I’m sure you’ll help me out.”
Blegen pointed out that Headley has taken liberties with the truth, and used Rana as cover, since his early days as an international heroin smuggler. Headley admitted that – after his first stint in jail, when he first became an informant for the Drug Enforcement Administration – he told fellow heroin dealers that he had only been out of contact because he was “working for Dr. Rana’s immigration office.”
Though this lie put Rana in danger, Headley said he never shared it with his friend.
And though Headley has claimed that he never lied to a judge, he violated parole numerous times after his first prison sentence for drug trafficking and continued to remain involved the drug trade. He also lied to his wife about his other two marriages only minutes after swearing on the Quran that he would never lie to her again.
“I believe … I was saying to her that I wouldn’t lie in the future,” Headley explained.
Headley waffled a great deal as to whether he told Rana his exact motivations to go to India. On redirect examination by the prosecutor, he claimed that it was “for Lashkar and the ISI.” On re-cross, however, Headley indicated that he merely told Rana he had joined Lashkar, but did not say, at least initially, that he was planning attacks.
Finally, over the prosecution’s a motion to strike, Headley admitted he was once diagnosed with “mixed personality disorder” and saw a psychologist for 18 months during the 1990s.
Revisiting a theme from last week’s testimony, Headley also spoke about remorse. “I feel bad for the methods that I employed,” Headley said. “[Not] the grievances I had, [but] the way I set out to address them. I’ve had some time to reflect.”
Picking up a thread in the trial that has hearkened more to organized crime than religious radicalism, Headley also said he worried that his primary Lashkar contact, Sajid, was tying up “loose ends” and “wanted to whack [him] to keep [him] quiet.”
“Nobody ever wanted to whack Dr. Rana,” Headley confirmed.
He also said the so-called Major Iqbal told him that he did not “want to see [him] anymore” after the Mumbai attacks.
Headley admitted that he is considering “writing a book [and] making a lot of money” based on his experiences, but claimed this is not for totally selfish reasons. He said he hopes to “teach the world what Islam is really about.”
“I believe there are a lot of wrong impressions in the media, and because of what I’ve done in the past, I believe I would be the right guy to do it,” Headley said.