CHICAGO (Reuters) - David Headley, the star witness in the U.S. case against the accused planners of the 2008 attacks on Mumbai, said on Tuesday that the list of targets changed as the raids grew near, irritating his Pakistani intelligence contact.
Headley, who has pleaded guilty to scouting in Mumbai for the militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba, testified that his handler with Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence directorate, “Major Iqbal,” told him to check out all the targets carefully.
“He told me to do detailed surveillance and he seemed upset that (Mumbai‘s) airport was not on the list,” said Headley, an American who grew up in Pakistan.
Iqbal had remarked that a targeted Jewish community center was a haven for Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency, Headley said, adding that other potential targets were Mumbai’s police headquarters and an Indian naval station.
Headley was testifying about his knowledge of the Mumbai plot and his use of a Chicago-based immigration business, owned by his Pakistan-born friend Tahawwur Rana, as a cover story while he did his surveillance work.
Rana, 50, a Canadian citizen living in Chicago, is the only person on trial for plotting the November 2008 attacks, which killed more than 160 people including six Americans.
Six Pakistanis have been charged as co-conspirators but are not in custody.
The trial follows the U.S. killing Osama bin Laden in Pakistan on May 2, which raised questions about Pakistan’s knowledge of the al Qaeda leader’s whereabouts and the country’s commitment to fight militant groups.
Headley described separate meetings with his Lashkar handler, Sajid Mir, with Iqbal and with a retired Pakistan military officer named Abdur Rehman, known as “Pasha.”
Initially the Mumbai train station was to be used as a means for the attackers to escape, but it became a target when Sajid Mir decided the militants would fight to the death.
“Sajid wanted them to fight well and said they wouldn’t if they were thinking about leaving,” Headley said.
Headley said “Pasha” was anxious to launch the attacks, which ultimately targeted luxury hotels, Mumbai’s main railway station, a cafe popular with tourists, the Jewish community center and other sites.
“For all the actions against Muslims, this would be revenge for that,” Headley said Pasha told him.
Headley said he was in Lahore, Pakistan, when his handler sent him a text message that the Mumbai attack had begun.
“I was pleased,” Headley said he felt as he watched the three-day assault unfold on television. “But I was concerned that the whole plan had been leaked out.”
When Lashkar leaders, under pressure after the Mumbai attack, backed off pursuing a plot to attack a Danish newspaper to retaliate for publishing cartoons that offended many Muslims, Pasha told Headley they would do it themselves.
Pasha introduced Headley to Muslim militant leader Ilyas Kashmiri, who is also charged in the case and who Pasha said had ties to al Qaeda.
Kashmiri suggested using a truck bomb in the Danish attack and indicated his men would behead hostages and throw their heads out office windows. Danish police would be less “timid” than Indian forces in the face of an assault, Kashmiri told Headley, who was readying the plan when he was arrested.
Headley struck a plea deal that allows him to avoid the death penalty and extradition to India or Denmark.
Editing by Christopher Wilson