A team of investigators from India is in Chicago to interrogate a Pakistani-American who helped plan the 2008 terrorist attacks in Mumbai that killed 166 people, including six Americans.
David Coleman Headley, who pleaded guilty in March to a dozen federal terrorism charges, scouted potential targets in India for the Pakistan-based terrorist group Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT).
Indian investigators want to know more about a trip Headley made to India in March 2009, when he conducted surveillance of sites that included the National Defense College in the Indian capital of New Delhi and Chabad Houses in several cities.
Indian interrogators are seeking details of Headley’s previous surveillance trips and his local connections in India, according to an Indian official in New Delhi who spoke on the condition of anonymity owing to the fact that the investigation is ongoing. They also are interested in learning more about the activities of LeT and conspiracies against India being hatched abroad.
Besides helping plot the Mumbai attacks, Headley said he participated in a plan to attack Jyllands Posten, a Danish newspaper that had published cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad, which is offensive to Muslims. The Denmark plot was put on hold following pressure in the aftermath of the Mumbai attacks.
His plea agreement states that he has cooperated with the government since his arrest and “has provided substantial assistance to the criminal investigation, and also has provided information of significant intelligence value.”
But the Indian official doubted Headley will provide more information than has been spelled out in his plea agreement.
After receiving instructions from three LeT members in late 2005 to travel to India on surveillance missions, Headley, the son of a Pakistani father and American mother, changed his name from Daood Gilani to disguise his Muslim and Pakistani background and facilitate international travel, according to prosecutors.
Headley made five trips to Mumbai — in September 2006, February and September 2007, and April and July 2008 — during which he made videotapes of potential targets. After each trip, Headley traveled to Pakistan to share the results of his reconnaissance with LeT members. He had conducted surveillance of all the targets struck by terrorists in Mumbai in November 2008, including the Taj Mahal and Oberoi hotels, the Leopold Cafe, the Chabad House and the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus train station.
FBI agents arrested Headley at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport on Oct. 3.
The U.S. shared intelligence with India ahead of the attacks, but it is not known whether Headley was the source.
The FBI also shared the results of its interrogation of Headley with an Indian team last year. The question of whether Headley had been under U.S. surveillance before the Mumbai attacks was not discussed.
India has been seeking access to Headley for months. Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh took up the matter during a meeting with President Obama in Washington in April. Mr. Singh said in a press conference in New Delhi last week that he had been assured “by the highest [authorities] in the U.S. administration that we will get access to David Headley.”
Last week, Robert O. Blake Jr., assistant secretary of state for South and Central Asian affairs, said permitting access to Headley was not a “sticking point” in the relationship with India.
“We are very pleased that the United States and India have been able to cooperate very closely on this critical and very complex issue,” Mr. Blake said.
Dean Boyd, a spokesman for the Justice Department, declined to comment.
Headley first came to the attention of U.S. authorities in 1997, when he was arrested for smuggling heroin in New York. He earned a reduced sentence by working for the Drug Enforcement Administration to infiltrate Pakistan-linked narcotics gangs. Intelligence sources said they suspect he turned rogue and switched allegiances to LeT.
As part of a plea deal in March, Headley admitted that he participated in the Mumbai and Denmark plots. The guilty plea was reached following a deal that ensured Headley would not be given the death penalty or extradited to India, Pakistan or Denmark.
Headley agreed that when directed by the U.S. Attorney’s Office he would fully and truthfully testify in any foreign judicial proceedings held in the United States by way of deposition, videoconferencing or letters rogatory.
Meanwhile, U.S.-India counterterrorism cooperation will feature in discussions between Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Indian Foreign Minister S.M. Krishna in Washington on Thursday. The two officials are leading the first U.S.-India strategic dialogue.