Chicago: A court in Chicago will on Thursday sentence Pakistani-American Lashkar-e-Toiba terrorist David Coleman Headley for his role in 2008 Mumbai terror attacks and plot to attack a Danish newspaper. He, however, is likely to avoid life imprisonment. Citing the "significant cooperation" Headley showed in helping the US government in its effort to combat terrorism, US federal prosecutors had sought only 30 to 35 years in prison for him.
The 20-page report submitted by the US government in the court had also ruled out extradition of Headley, who had admitted scouting targets for the deadly attacks in Mumbai on November 26, 2008 and later testified against the plotters. India expressed disappointment at the US's decision with External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid saying, "Well it is disappointing, undoubtedly it is disappointing but we understand that they have a legal structure which has to be adhered to. We were anxious and we were wishing that the trial takes place here but it has taken place there (in US)."
Noting that India wanted Headley to be punished for his role in the 26/11 attacks, he said the country was always firm that people involved in the attacks should be punished. "I would imagine that the Home Minister (Sushil Kumar Shinde) would want us to continue with the demand (for extraditing Headley)," he said.
Headley, who changed his given name of Dawood Gilani to scout targets in Mumbai without arousing suspicion, had pleaded guilty to 12 charges relating to his role in the Mumbai attacks as also an abortive LeT plot to attack Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten for publishing cartoons of Prophet Muhammad. Ahead of the sentencing, Gary Shapiro - the acting US Attorney in Chicago - in a memo to the federal district court had said that the 30-35 year sentence recommended by the prosecution for Headley was fair.
"While his criminal conduct was deplorable, the uniquely significant cooperation which he provided to the government's efforts to combat terrorism support the government's recommendations," he said. After he promised in 2010 to cooperate with US authorities, prosecutors "had agreed not to seek the death penalty against him and to not extradite him to Pakistan, India or Denmark for the offences to which he pleaded guilty."
Headley was the key witness against his Pakistan-born childhood friend Tahawwur Rana, who was sentenced last week to 14 years in prison for providing material support to LeT in its plot to attack the Danish newspaper. In his memo, Shapiro said "Headley played an essential role in the planning of a horrific terrorist attack" in Mumbai. He "not only worked at the direction of Lashkar-e-Toiba for years, but also with members of al Qaeda."
But the information that Headley provided following his arrest and in subsequent proffer sessions was of substantial value to the government and its allies, India in particular, in its efforts to combat international terrorism, prosecutors said. "Headley's cooperation assisted the Government in filing criminal charges against at least seven other individuals, and his testimony helped to secure the conviction of one co-defendant," namely Rana, it said.
- Sajid Mir, a senior Lashkar leader who was one of the main architects of the Mumbai attacks and acted as one of the controllers providing directions to the ten attackers. Sajid was Headley's handler;
- Abu Qahafa, a senior Lashkar member who provided combat and other training to the ten attackers and acted as one of the controllers.
- Mazhar Iqbal, a senior Lashkar leader who acted as one of the controllers.
- Major Iqbal, who Headley reported to be an ISI officer who helped plan and fund the Mumbai attacks.
- Ilyas Kashmiri, the leader of Harakat ul Jihad al Islami (HUJI), a terrorist organization that trained terrorists and executed attacks against India. Kashmiri also worked with al Qaeda, meeting regularly with Mustafa Abu al Yazid, aka "Sheik Said al Masri."
- Abdur Rehman Hashim Syed, a retired Pakistani military officer who once belonged to Lashkar, but had starting working with Kashmiri.
(With additional information from PTI, IANS)