AMERICAN national and 26/11 scout David Coleman Headley, who deposed before an Indian court on Monday, said that the 10 terrorists who attacked Mumbai on November 26, 2008 had attempted to carry out the strike earlier on two occasions, but failed to execute it.
He said the first attempt was made in September 2008 but it failed as the boat hit some rocks and the terrorists lost all the arms and ammunition at sea.
“The boat disintegrated. The men had life jackets on and came to shore. The weapons and explosives were lost in the ocean,” Headley told the court. He said he does not remember what happened during the second attempt, but it was made “a month or so later”.
“I don’t know exactly where the boat started from, but probably outside Karachi,” he told the court.
Headley told the court that Lashkar-e-Taiba member Sajid Mir had told him to change his name in 2005, and to set up an office in Mumbai and make a “general video” of the city. Headley also said one Major Iqbal, an agent of Pakistan’s Inter Services Intelligence (ISI), had told him that he could be “useful” for “intelligence work” in India.
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In New Delhi, Minister of State for Home Affairs Kiren Rijiju said, “The difference between the state and non-state actors will come to an end after this statement. It is known who all were involved. Headley’s statement will lead to a logical conclusion. It will help us.”
Government sources said India will give Pakistan details of Headley’s testimony regarding Hafiz Saeed’s role as the LeT’s ideologue, and the involvement of ISI officers in training and directing the perpetrators of the 26/11 Mumbai attack.
“While Pakistan has claimed that Saeed is associated with Jamaat ud Dawa, Headley’s testimony is evidence on record of Saeed’s role as an ideologue and indoctrinator for LeT,” said a government official.
Headley said Mir was his “main contact” in the LeT. Headley, originally named Dawood Geelani by his parents, had applied to have his name changed in Chicago in 2005. In 2006, his name was officially changed and he obtained a new passport so he could enter India under an American identity, he said.
Headley deposed via video-link from an undisclosed location in the US in the presence of lawyers Robert Seeder and John Theis and Assistant US Attorney Sarah Streicker.
Asked by special public prosecutor Ujjwal Nikam about the purpose of the office Mir wanted him to open, Headley said, “He did not specify at that time. He specified later what his intention was. Before my first visit, he gave me general instructions to make a general video of Mumbai.”
Headley’s questioning began at the Bombay City Civil and Sessions Court at 7.30 am, three-and-a-half hours before it officially opens, to accommodate the Americans. This comes nearly two months after the court framed charges against him in the ongoing trial of Zabiuddin Ansari, an accused in the 26/11 attack.
Headley, who was handed a 35-year jail term by a court in the US in 2013 for his role in the 26/11 attacks, had signed a plea agreement with the government there, under which he is bound to testify in a foreign court or face the death penalty.
Dressed in a grey sweater, Headley leaned back in his chair, looking into the court from a large television screen, facing another TV screen on which Ansari was visible, seated in Mumbai Central Prison.
Nikam addressed the 26/11 scout as Mr Headley throughout. When he referred to the LeT as a “military organisation”, Joint Commissioner of Police (Crime) Atulchandra Kulkarni corrected him, “Nikam saheb, military nahi militant, militant.”
Headley, born in Washington DC, deposed that he had come into contact with an ISI agent named Major Ali after he was arrested in Landi Kotal in Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Region (FATA), near the border with Afghanistan, on suspicion of being a foreigner.
While entry of foreigners is prohibited there, Headley was discharged after he produced a Pakistani identity card. “I was carrying in my possession literature about India which I was studying,” he said.
Accompanied by a former Pakistan Army Major named Abdur Rehman Pasha, Headley said he had ventured to FATA to meet a drug smuggler named Zaid Shah. “It had been suggested that Shah could smuggle weapons into India,” Headley said.
Headley said he was interrogated there by Ali, who works for the ISI in Landi Kotal. Headley said that when he disclosed to him that he planned to visit India, Ali introduced him to another ISI agent named Major Iqbal because “he thought I could be useful to him in some intelligence work there”.
Prior to the 26/11 attacks, Headley travelled to India on eight occasions — seven times to Mumbai and once to Delhi. “Most of those visits had been made from Pakistan. Only once or twice I arrived from the UAE or Dubai,” he said. He told the court that he visited India only once after the attacks, on March 7, 2009.
The applications he had submitted to the Consul General of India in Chicago to twice obtain visas contained personal information that was falsified “for the purpose of protecting my cover”, he said.
Dr Tahawwur Rana, a childhood friend of Headley, who was sentenced to 14-year imprisonment by a US court in 2013, had helped him obtain a five-year business visa to India in 2007. They had studied together for five years at a college in Pakistan’s Punjab Province.
In Mumbai, Headley set up a safe house “to live in an enemy country” and posed as an immigration consultant to “maintain my cover”.
In the two years that Headley trained with the LeT, he undertook five to six courses in paramilitary training, handling weapons, ammunition and explosives, and intelligence, at Muridke near Lahore and Muzaffarabad in “Azaad Kashmir”, he said. Training also included a leadership course in which Saeed and senior commander Zaki-ur Rehman Lakhvi delivered “religious speeches”, he said.
Towards the end of the day’s questioning, Headley told Nikam that he wanted to fight the Indian Army in Kashmir but was denied by Lakhvi, who said he was “too old” for it.
Soon afterwards, he was informed by Ali that a suitable task would be found for him, he said.
Nikam, who had started the day with the announcement that his examination of Headley would take at least two days, ended by asking him to identify seven LeT trainers. Headley admitted to knowing Abu Furkhan, Sanaullah, Abu Hanjala Pathan, Abu Usman, Abu Saeed and Abu Fahadullah.
He rejected Nikam’s suggestion that all trainers had served in the Pakistan Army in the past. “No, not at all, some of them could barely read and write,” Headley said to laughter in the courtroom.
Nikam went on, asking Headley if the men could handle sophisticated weapons. He replied: “If you can call an AK-47 a sophisticated weapon, then yes.”
(With ENS Delhi)