In 2007, the Lashkar-e-Taiba planned to attack a conference of Indian defence scientists, held at the Taj Mahal Hotel in Mumbai, but cancelled the plan “due to numerous reasons”, 26/11 scout David Coleman Headley told a special court on Tuesday, the second day of his deposition.
Headley, deposing via video-link from an undisclosed location in the US, also said he had been instructed by the LeT to shoot videos of Mumbai’s Siddhivinayak Temple and to conduct a recce of all places that were eventually attacked on November 26, 2008.
“They had information of some meeting that was going to take place of defence scientists. So at the time, an attack would be conducted,” he said.
Headley told the court that a meeting of the LeT — attended by Muzammil Butt, Abu Kafa and Sajid Mir — was held in 2006, where it was decided that he would go to Mumbai and set up an office there.
At the meeting, Headley said in response to questions from special public prosecutor Ujjwal Nikam, the LeT had debated whether to attack Mumbai, Delhi or Bengaluru.
On his return to Pakistan from his scouting trips in 2007, Headley gave photos, videos and a GPS machine with locations of targets and various locations in the Arabian Sea to the LeT. The next meeting, he said, was held in November 2007 in Muzaffarabad. At this meeting, he said, Mir and Kafa prepared a “mock up” of the Taj Hotel. They showed Headley pictures of the hotel and asked him questions about it, he said.
“Now they were looking at it with the the view of focusing on the conference rooms,” he said. “My job was done for then. Due to numerous reasons, they cancelled the plan.”
Asked why the plans were shelved, he told Nikam that the reasons were mostly logistical, apart from the fact that the LeT did not know the date of the defence scientists’ conference.
He also said it was due to difficulty in “getting personnel and ordinance to the target location”.
Headley had conducted surveillance of the hotel in April and May 2007, when he stayed there with his third wife, Morocco citizen Fazia.
Asked by Nikam if he was aware of the plan to attack the conference halls before the LeT’s second meeting, Headley said, “Negative. I did not know and took as much (video footage) as I could.”
Headley said that during his visit to Mumbai in 2007, he conducted surveillance of targets including a naval air station, the Taj Hotel, the state police headquarters and Oberoi Hotel. At the end of the day’s proceedings, when his testimony was being read to him for verification, he made an addition to the list: “And Bhabha Atomic Research Centre also, your honour.”
Headley also made a video of Bhagat Singh Marg in Colaba, where one of the 26/11 targets, Leopold Cafe, is located.
Headley said Mir, his main contact in the LeT, also instructed him to “specifically make a video of Siddhivinayak Temple”. According to the original plan, CST railway station, which recorded the highest death toll during 26/11, had been scouted not as a target, but “it was for people who came (the terrorists), for them to leave from there”, Headley said.
Nikam then questioned Headley on the relationship between the ISI and the LeT. Asked about his opinion, Headley said, “My assessment is that they coordinate with each other.” Maintaining that he had no direct knowledge of it and was deposing on the basis of hearsay, Headley told the court that the ISI provides “financial, military and moral support to the Jaish-e-Mohammad, the Hizbul Mujahideen and LeT”.
Nikam then quizzed Headley about his own links with the ISI. “You were also working with the ISI?” Nikam asked. “Yes,” he replied.
Headley told the court that one Major Iqbal, an ISI agent, had told him that he could be used by the ISI in India “to gather military intelligence, to gather some recruits from the Indian Army as spies and to spy on troop movements”.
Headley also told the court that Hafeez Saeed is the LeT’s overall spiritual head, while Zaki-ur Rehman Lakhvi is the outfit’s operational commander for Occupied Kashmir.
Headley said that in his early days with the LeT, he had suggested to Saeed and Lakhvi that the outfit should take the US government to court for declaring it a banned terrorist organisation. Saeed, Headley added, wasn’t very enthusiastic about the idea. Lakhvi, too, was unwilling and said that it would be a very long process and that “he would have to discuss it with the intelligence agency of the Pakistan government, the ISI,” Headley said.
When he was an LeT member, Headley also came in contact with Jaish-e-Mohammad chief Maulana Masood Azhar, who was freed by the Indian government in 1999 in exchange for passengers on the hijacked Indian Airlines Flight 814. In October 2003, Azhar was a guest speaker at a gathering of the LeT in Renala Khurd, where he “made a speech about his incarceration in India and his subsequent release”, Headley said.
Throughout the five-hour deposition, Nikam and Headley were cautiously polite while addressing each other, but the latter lost his cool twice in the final half hour.
The first time was when Nikam asked Headley about his travels with Fazia to Mumbai in 2007. The couple had twice checked into the Taj Hotel and once into the Oberoi Hotel in April and May, but Fazia delayed her return to Karachi on May 3, and checked into the Outram Hotel alone, while Headley stayed as a paying guest in Breach Candy.
“May I ask why you did not comply with your promise to give your wife a 10-day trip?” Nikam asked. Headley shot back, “I don’t remember ever making such a promise. That’s between me and her. We had some arguments. She’s my wife, it is a personal matter.”
Trying to pacify Headley, Nikam said, “I don’t want to annoy you. If it makes you angry, we will move on to something else.”
Nikam’s questioning of Headley’s source of income also riled him up. Telling the court that he had travelled to UAE on May 17, 2007, returned to Mumbai on May 20 and left Mumbai again on June 7, Nikam asked Headley the reason for his visit to the UAE.
Headley replied that he had gone to invest money in property in Dubai. “It appears you were getting a handsome amount,” Nikam said. “Yes, I had a business in America and was getting a handsome amount,” Headley replied.
“So, Mr Headley, were the ISI and LeT making payment to you?” No longer calm, Headley replied, “That’s complete nonsense.”
Caught off-guard, Nikam, said, “This is not expected of you. But if you want to remain rigid on this issue, I cannot say anything.” Headley replied, “Yes, I will remain rigid on this issue.”
Judge G A Sanap cautioned Headley not to spoil the decorum of the court, and said that if he found any question offensive, he could simply say he doesn’t know. Headley replied, “Sorry, your honour.”
The deposition will continue on Wednesday.