David Coleman Headley received this text message from Sajid Mir, his alleged handler in the terror organisation Lashkar-eToiba: “The game is afoot”.
He took it to mean that “the process” to attack Mumbai had begun, Headley said on Friday, the third day of his cross-examination by the defence. Headley then detailed how Mir had described the failure of two attempts to attack the city, before the LeT eventually succeeded on November 26, 2008.
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“It conveyed that the process had begun,” Headley told defence lawyer Abdul Wahab Khan.
Headley also admitted that he was informed by Mir that “the boat of the attackers got stuck in rocks and got destroyed” in their first attempt to target Mumbai. Mir later told him that a second attempt would be made in October 2008, but the team of attackers was ready only by mid-November, said Headley.
He answered in the affirmative when asked if the LeT wanted to exchange Israeli hostages captured at Chabad House in Colaba for the terrorist Ajmal Kasab, who had been caught by the police. But he did not concur with Khan’s suggestion that the Mir had requested him to speak to the Israeli Embassy to initiate the trade-off.
Headley also refuted the defence’s assertion that he was present in the LeT’s control room in Karachi while the attack was taking place and that he spoke over the phone to the attackers.
Headley told the court that he had a phone conversation with Chicago-based businessman and acquitted 26/11 plotter Dr Tahawwur Rana on September 7, 2009, a month before his arrest by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in the USA. “In that conversation you suggested that the nine dead attackers should get the Nishan-e-Haider award, the highest military award for gallantry in Pakistan,” Khan said. “Yes,” Headley replied.
On Friday morning, Khan began his efforts by claiming that Headley had escaped maximum sentence during his trial in an US court due to his collusion with the FBI and was leading a luxurious life in an unnamed prison. But Headley laughed off suggestions that his prison cell was equipped with air-conditioning and heating, and that “luxurious food” was available to him.
Headley next denied allegations that he saved from a death penalty, a life sentence and from paying fines of more than $30,00,000 as the FBI did not insist on either one.
When Khan suggested that the FBI had financed Headley’s trips to Pakistan, that it was aware of his association with the LeT and that Headley had also translated intercepted phone calls in Punjabi for the US Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), he replied in monosyllables: “baseless”, “ridiculous” and “ludicrous”.
For the next 15 minutes, Khan quizzed him on whether the terms of his plea agreement with the US government prevented Headley from being extradited to India to face trial. “I thought I was here to testify on behalf of the government. I didn’t know this would be a back and forth,” said Headley. When the Judge G A Sanap attempted to soothe Headley, he was apologetic. “Main bohot kharab insaan hoon. Main maan gaya hoon (I am a very bad man. I am convinced),” he told the judge.
Pakistani-american citizen Headley was then unexpectedly asked about his feelings towards India. Headley admitted that he had developed a hatred for India since childhood.
Asked for the reason, Headley said, “It was when my school (Jesus and Mary Convent, Karachi) was bombed in 1971. That was when I developed these feelings. On 7th December,” said Headley. He blamed “Indian planes” for the attack and said it was one of the reasons why he decided to join LeT.
Headley also admitted that his father, who retired as the Director General of Radio Pakistan, and brother Daniyal were aware of his terror activities.
The defence also touched briefly on the contentious subject of Ishrat Jahan, whom Headley had identified to special public prosecutor Ujjwal Nikam last month as being an LeT member who was killed during a shootout in Ahmedabad. Asked by Khan whether the National Investigation Agency had asked him to take her name, Headley replied, “For what purpose? It doesn’t make any sense.”
Headley also confirmed that while attending a training camp of the LeT in July 2004, the organisation’s second in command, Zaki-ur Rehman Lakhvi, had made a presentation about the killing of an Indian national who had received money from the LeT but passed on information to India.
Headley also denied that Nikam and Atulchandra Kulkarni, Mumbai Police Joint Commissioner of Police (crime), had met him in an American prison before the deposition took place.