CHICAGO (CN) – In the aftermath of the 2008 terrorist attacks in Mumbai, one of the terrorist plotters felt relieved to have avenged his boyhood school in Pakistan, bombed by India in 1971, he told jurors Tuesday.
The Washington D.C.-born David Headley said he felt he was “even” with India, “even if Pakistan was not.”
Tuesday marked the second day of testimony against Tahawwur Rana, who is on trial for providing material support to Headley and Lashkar-e-Taiba, the Pakistan-based group behind the Mumbai attacks and other violent plots.
Headley, the prosecution’s star witness, is a former heroin smuggler turned informant. He explained Monday that he and Rana were childhood friends since their first meeting at the prestigious Hasan Abdal military cadet college, a bomb site that Headley now feels he has avenged.
Testifying against Rana ensures that Headley will not receive the death penalty for his admitted role in the attacks. He claims Rana, a Pakistani-born citizen of Canada, helped him create a cover so that he could conduct reconnaissance in the streets of Mumbai.
Headley said he pretended to be an “immigrant consultant” for the Mumbai office of Rana’s Chicago-based company, First World Immigration.
In this capacity, Headley patrolled the city disguised as an American tourist, taking detailed photographs, videos and GPS measurements. He said the cover gave him access to high-visibility buildings, including luxury hotels and the offices of anti-Islamic party Shiv Sena.
All the while, Headley was in constant communication with senior leaders of the Lashkar terrorist organization, and he says he kept Rana informed at every stage of the plot.
In some of Headley’s emails, a high-ranking Lashkar affiliate known only as Major Iqbal mentions a “Doc Guy.” Headley said Iqbal, who is thought to be an officer of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency, was referring to Rana, who holds a medical degree.
Headley testified that he never hid his work with Lashkar and Major Iqbal from Rana.
As a target list soon took shape, Headley said Lashkar set its sights on the Taj Mahal Hotel, the Naval Air Station and the Chabad House, which Iqbal considered “a front office of the Mossad.”
Meanwhile, Headley’s primary contact in Lashkar, Sajid Mir, was “training the fighters [in] close-quarter battle.” Escape options were dropped “in favor of a stronghold option” in which “attackers lock themselves in a building and fight … until the end.”
The attacks began shortly thereafter, on Nov. 26, 2008, leaving 160 dead over the next three days.
Headley said Rana told him the Indians “deserved it” when he learned what happened.
Lashkar leaders had also planned to attack Denmark’s Jyllands-Posten, the newspaper that published controversial cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad in 2005.
Headley said his contact, Mir, had told him he “was surprised such an attack had not already been done by anyone.”
In trying to get what Headley refers to as “Operation Mickey Mouse” off the ground, Lashkar allegedly tried to collaborate with Rana and al-Qaida chiefs Ilyas Kashmiri and Saeed al-Masri.
At one post-Mumbai meeting, Headley said Rana told him that the plot was “long overdue.” Rana then allegedly helped Headley get more business cards for his cover, and Headley went to Copenhagen and Aarhus, Denmark’s second-largest city. While conducting surveillance, Headley took photos of the Jyllands-Posten exterior and visited the paper’s advertising office. Headley said he advised the “happy” Rana to consider “the feasibility of opening an office” in Copenhagen, and kept him posted on his activities.
Prosecutors on Tuesday introduced emails Headley sent to Rana, full of vague sentences such as “I think our company has a very bright future [in Denmark].”
Anticipating that it would be harder to create a panic in Denmark on the scale of Mumbai, Lashkar planned to kill hostages and “throw … heads out of the building,” Headley said. Rana knew about these details, he added, noting that he showed his friend video of the 2008 suicide attack on the Danish embassy in Islamabad.
Back in Pakistan, Headley said he met with al-Qaida leader Ilyas Kashmiri to plot the Denmark attack. Kashmiri claimed that “he knew someone in England” who could help, Headley testified, causing ears to prick up in the courtroom.
The plan stalled as American law enforcement tracked down Headley’s family and friends. Feeling cornered, Headley said he sent his will to Rana, whom he “trust[ed] to take care of [his] family.”
Tuesday’s hearing revealed that Lashkar’s plots involved very sophisticated surveillance and tactics. Headley recalled Lashkar’s debate over “stronghold” versus “egress” options in Mumbai, as well as his travel to Pakistani borderlands to investigate cell phone reception so Lashkar could “maintain contact with [the attackers] throughout.”
In many ways, the testimony flaunts common themes in War on Terror coverage. Headley said Lashkar based its tactics and organizational structure on the logic of war, not thoughts of “martyrdom” or other buzzwords. It was “common to talk of the success of attacks in religious words” merely “to be discreet,” Headley testified.
The soft-spoken and polished Headley stands in stark contrast to the rustic images of Osama bin Ladin familiar to Americans. And yet Headley is one of the highest-ranking members of any militant group to testify in an American court. With Guantanamo detainees relegated to military tribunals, he will likely remain so.
Though the reliability of Headley’s testimony has come into question, prosecutors buttressed their case Tuesday with intercepted emails.
Collins, the assistant U.S. attorney, submitted several messages featuring “code” or referring to plans, one with a list of more than 20 bullet points. Headley claimed he “didn’t understand it,” referring to one coded message Rana allegedly sent. Though Rana’s attorneys routinely objected to introduction of these emails, they were overruled.
India’s volatile relationship with Pakistan featured heavily Tuesday, as Headley made frequent mention of India’s powerful anti-Islamic political party Shiv Sena.
Headley said his infiltration of the party partly evolved from making contact with Rajaram Rege, a public relations officer for the son of Shiv Sena founder Bal Thackeray.
Thackeray has long been a hero to some right-wing Hindus and a figure of terror and resentment among India’s Muslims. Headley said he saw Rege as “the goose that lays the golden egg,” and recalled joking about an attempt “take care of” Thackeray or other Shiv Sena officials.
“As I viewed them, they were terrorists,” Headley said, adding later that some Lashkar members named themselves after people killed in Kashmir “in action against Indian troops.”