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David Coleman Headley, the Pakistani American who scouted targets for the 26/11 terror attacks in 2008 by the Lashkar-e-Toiba, was granted pardon by a Mumbai special court and made an approver and a witness in the case against plotter Zabiuddin Ansari alias Abu Jundal.
Headley was pardoned on the condition that he make full disclosure of the criminal conspiracy behind the attacks as well as his role and those of others in it. His statement will be recorded by a TADA court on February 8, 2016.
With pleas for his extradition repeatedly denied, Headley (55) appeared before the court through video-conference from an undisclosed location in the United States where he is serving a 35-year jail term for his role in the attacks.
In the court, TV screens were mounted on opposite walls on either side of the judge’s dais. From Arthur Road Jail, Ansari occupied one screen while the other screen had two views — a yellow table where Headley would take his place, and a conference room in Washington where Mark Tellitocci, from the Office of International Affairs at the US Department of Justice, watched the proceedings with Nandkumar Mishra, minister at the Indian Embassy in Washington and J S Parmar, an attache at the embassy.
Now David Headley will be a prosecution witness: Ujjwal Nikam on 26/11 terror attack case pic.twitter.com/h0D0qIUJvO
— ANI (@ANI_news) December 10, 2015
Joint Commissioner of Police (Crime) Atulchandra Kulkarni was in attendance as were policemen in plainclothes.
Wearing a cream half-sleeve shirt, Ansari appeared on the screen first and Judge G A Sanap asked him if he could hear and see the court proceedings. “Ji sir,” he replied. Those would be Ansari’s only words all evening.
Sanap then addressed Headley, asking him his full name, age and address. “My name is Dawood Geelani. Also I go by David Headley,” he said. The address would not be disclosed.
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The judge told Headley that he faced charges of hatching a conspiracy with the LeT, waging war against the government of India, intentionally aiding and abetting (LeT) knowing that it would kill 166 innocent persons and injure 237 between November 26 and November 28, 2008, as well as under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act.
Headley was wearing a black short-sleeve coverall, and was flanked by his attorneys, Robert Seeder and John Theis, Assistant US Attorney Sarah Streicker and FBI agent Raymundo Nagera. He announced his readiness to answer questions of the court if he was given a pardon.
Headley read out a prepared statement after Sanap read out the charges levelled against him by the Mumbai Police crime branch and asked if he had anything to say.
“I have reviewed the charging documents filed against me in this court. It charges me with the same conduct for which I was charged in the United States. I have pleaded guilty in the past to the charges in the United States and I admitted I was a participant in the charges. I accepted responsibility for my role in those offences in my plea agreement. I also agreed to make myself available as a witness in this court. I appeared here ready to answer questions regarding these events if I receive a pardon from this court. That’s it. Thank you,” Headley said.
His final sentence took the judge by surprise, who was simultaneously dictating the statement to his stenographer. “…pardon from this court?”
Special Public Prosecutor Ujjwal Nikam then sought half an hour to consult the police. When he returned after 7.30 pm, Nikam said, “after having made a conscious decision, we are ready to accept the request to tender pardon under certain terms and conditions.”
Admitting that the case rested on circumstantial evidence, and that there was no direct evidence of the criminal conspiracy hatched outside India, Nikam argued that “Headley would unfold the conspiracy and strengthen the case against Jundal (Ansari).”
Sanap asked Headley if he had been threatened or pressurised by anyone to give evidence. He replied, “I am obliged because of the plea agreement.” Not receiving an answer in yes or no, the judge tried again: “Give straight answers like straight submissions made by the prosecutor.” Headley amended his earlier answer, “except the pressure of the plea agreement”.
his order in open court, Sanap observed: “In case of a criminal conspiracy, it is hardly possible to get direct evidence. The accused was involved in the early part of the conspiracy which could be unearthed and proved if one of the co-conspirators comes before the court with a request to give full and true facts in his knowledge.”
He said the seriousness of the crime and the “possible evidence” which could come on record had to be considered. Adding that police was “fortunate” that Headley had willingly expressed the desire to unfold the conspiracy, the judge said “evidence of a co-conspirator like Headley would be of immense importance to the prosecution. It is very difficult and hard to (get) such direct evidence and a first-hand account of the criminal conspiracy.”
He also detailed in his order that it would be “very difficult” to bring the “best evidence” on record if the pardon request was rejected.
Headley has been ordered to disclose full and true facts relating to the 26/11 attacks conspiracy, his role in the conspiracy and those of other co-conspirators, all facts he had disclosed to the American court and lastly, “truthfully and correctly” answer all questions answers posed by the prosecution. Asked if he understood the terms and conditions, Headley replied, “Yes.”
As one of Headley’s attorneys turned to the judge for a clarification, Nikam declared, “Now David is my witness also.” Sanap was quick to cut him down: “You are taking credit. He is a court witness.”