Special public prosecutor Ujjwal Nikam led David Coleman Headley through a process of elimination on Thursday before the 26/11 scout identified Ishrat Jahan as a “woman Lashkar-e-Toiba member” killed in an “unsuccessful LeT operation”. A similar elimination process with three choices ended with Headley naming Gujarat as the state where the operation took place.
It began with Nikam asking Headley if he was aware of a women’s wing in LeT. Testifying via video link from the US, Headley told the special court in Mumbai, “I don’t know. I forget. But if you can remind…”
Nikam informed him that the mother of militant Abu Aiman was in charge of the women’s wing. He then asked if Headley knew of any female suicide bombers in the LeT. Headley said he didn’t’ he could not name any suicide bomber in the LeT.
Headley then deposed that he had been told by LeT leader Muzammil Bhat about his botched operation in India. Asked to explain what that operation was, Headley said, “I don’t remember. But it was a shootout with the police at some naka. A picket.”
Nikam asked Headley if there were males or females in the “botched-up” operation. “There was one female killed in the shootout with the police,” Headley replied.
“I am giving you three names Can you tell me which of them it is?” Nikam said. “Noorjahan Begum, Ishrat Jahan and Mumtaz Begum.”
Headley paused before replying, “I think it was the second one.”
The court took on record that “the female who had died in the unsuccessful operation was Ishrat Jahan.”
At the end of the day’s deposition, as his testimony was read out to him, Headley added, “It was my understanding that she was an Indian, not a Pakistani. That is what I was given to understand.”
He was asked to name the area of the country in which the shootout took place. Again, Nikam gave him three options.
Asked about the parts of the country in which LeT was active apart from Jammu and Kashmir, Headley answered, “Many, many places.” Nikam then referred directly to the shootout. “Where else did Muzammil Bhat carry out terror activities? Was it in Maharashtra, Gujarat or Karnataka?”
Headley deposed that Maharashtra had been targeted in the 26/11 attacks and that he did not know where Karnataka is on the map.
“This was in Gujarat? The botched-up operation was in Gujarat?” Nikam asked.
“Yes. Yes. Yes,” replied Headley, as if refreshing his memory.
Ishrat Jahan, 19, and of Mumbra, was killed in 2004 by Gujarat police on the outskirts of Ahmedabad. Gujarat police had claimed that Jahan, Javed Sheikh a.k.a. Pranesh Pillai, Zeeshan Johar and Amjad Ali Rana were LeT operatives who had plotted to kill then chief minister Nearendra Modi. An investigation by the CBI rejected the claim and concluded the encounter had been staged by then Gujarat Police deputy inspector general D G Vanzara.
During the series of questions that led Headley into identifying Gujarat, advocate Wahab Khan, representing Abu Jundal in the 26/11 case, was silent. But some time earlier, he had objected that Nikam was asking Headley leading questions. Khan had repeatedly objected to Headley referring to documents placed on the table before answering. Judge G A Sanap gave him permission to do so as the events in question had taken place a long time ago. At one stage, Nikam snapped at Khan for disturbing him. When Khan complained about Headley taking sips of water, the judge asked him to sit down.
There was a brief scare of a repeat of Wednesday’s washout. The video blacked out twice at 7:30 am, but resumed soon.