Pakistani-American LeT terrorist David Headley, serving 35 years in jail for his role in the 26/11 Mumbai attacks, has written a memoir in prison detailing how Lashkar’s “dedication” to the cause of “liberation of Kashmir” inspired him to join the terror group.
American public affairs TV programme Frontline was given access to a draft of the memoir Headley, 54, wrote in jail. Excerpts from the draft offer a window into Headley’s move towards extremism, his training with Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) and his preparations for the attack on the Danish daily Jyllands-Posten.
In one of the passages in the memoir, Headley writes about his first encounter with LeT militants. “On one of my trips, October 2000, I made my first contact with LeT, quite by accident. I attended their annual convention… I was very impressed with their dedication to the cause of the liberation of Kashmir from Indian occupation,” Headley writes.
Recalling the Mumbai terror attack, he writes, “The plan was to capture an Indian fishing vessel, which constantly strayed into Pakistani waters, and commandeer it all the way to Mumbai. The hope was that the Indian Coast Guard would not notice an Indian vessel. The boys would carry a GPS device which would guide them directly to the landing site I had selected earlier,” he writes.
Headley also writes in detail about his decision to join Lashkar “full time” following the 9/11 attacks, and says that by 2002, the group asked him to take “the Daura Aamma, the basic military training course offered by LeT”.
In 2005, Lashkar asked him to change his name from Dawood Gilani to a “Christian sounding name” so that he could travel easily between the US, India and Pakistan and make it difficult for intelligence agencies to track his activities.
“My immediate superior Sajid Mir… informed me I would be going to India… since I looked nothing like a Pakistani in appearance and spoke fluent Hindi and Urdu it would give me a distinct advantage in India,” he said.
Describing the training he got at Lashkar camps, Headley writes, “We hid most of the day in caves and under trees, while we were given instructions on various lessons.” He says most of the “practical aspects” of the lessons were carried out at night.
In the memoir, he recalls the time in 1999 when, after serving his sentence for drug trafficking, he had “decided to turn over a new leaf”. “To make amends for my unrighteous ways, I worked for the Drug Enforcement Agency,” he writes.
He writes that he started leaning more about his religion “as part of my change”. Another change Headley made was to break away from his Canadian girlfriend, whom he had been planning to marry.
He agreed to an arranged marriage in Pakistan and he kept visiting the country “four times a year, without the knowledge of the DEA or my Probation Officer” to see his new wife.
On his decision to marry a second time, Headley says that “polygamy was aggressively encouraged” by Lashkar and “they were really happy to see me take this step”.
“I was definitely ‘one of the guys’ now,” he writes.
On his plans to attack the Danish newspaper, he says “al-Qaeda number four” Ilyas Kashmiri told him that Osama bin Laden wanted to “conclude this matter quickly”.
Headley was arrested in October 2009 at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport on his way back to Pakistan.