CHICAGO (Reuters) - American citizen David Headley who has admitted scouting targets for the 2008 assault on Mumbai by Pakistani militants testified on Monday that the plot was hatched with at least one Pakistani intelligence official and a navy frogman.
At a trial for a Chicago businessman Tahawwur Rana, accused of providing a front for his surveillance work in India, Headley testified to getting help and guidance from two officers in Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence directorate, the ISI.
David Headley pleaded guilty last year to being a co-conspirator in the Mumbai attacks, in which 10 militants from the Pakistani group Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) killed 166 people, including six Americans.
On the stand as a star witness in the case against his childhood friend, Tahawwur Rana, a Pakistan-born Canadian citizen, Headley said he was recruited by LeT and shuttled between India, Pakistan and the United States performing surveillance and briefing his contacts and Rana.
The 50-year-old Headley said he was introduced to a retired Pakistani military officer at a mosque, and reported regularly to his LeT handlers and an ISI officer named “Major Iqbal.”
“These groups operated under the umbrella of ISI ... they coordinated with ISI,” Headley testified under questioning by prosecutor Daniel Collins.
Rana, 50, is accused of using his immigration services firm in Chicago to provide a cover story for Headley’s surveillance work and to be a conduit for communication with militants.
His trial comes at a time of growing discord in the United States about Pakistan’s commitment to fight terrorism after the United States discovered and killed al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in a compound near the Pakistani capital of Islamabad.
Pakistani authorities deny having known where the man behind the Sept. 11 attacks was hiding, but the revelation raised U.S.-Pakistani tensions and increased interest in who may have known what about the Mumbai attacks.
U.S. prosecutor Sarah Streicker said that although Rana did not carry a gun or throw a grenade, he was complicit in the violence in Mumbai.
Some Pakistanis accused in the case but not in U.S. custody knew about Rana and were “appreciative of his assistance,” she said in her opening statement to the jury in U.S. District Court in Chicago. At one point after the 2008 attack, Streicker said Rana told Headley, “The Indians deserved it.”
A defense attorney for Rana tried to challenge Headley’s credibility, suggesting that he changed his story repeatedly and duped Rana. “Headley told his own wife after the attack that ‘I acknowledge that I made a fool out of (Rana),’” said defense attorney Charles Swift.
Swift said the militants had tried and failed twice before to launch the attack on Mumbai by hijacking Indian fishing boats — crashing one onto rocks and letting the other escape.
Headley, who has been convicted twice of importing heroin into the United States, told the court he had wanted to wage war against India in the disputed territory of Kashmir but was advised he would get another assignment, which turned out to be scouting Mumbai. He was directed to change his given name, Daood Gilani, for easier travel in India.
Arrested on a trip to Pakistan’s northeast while seeking an old contact who could help smuggle weapons into India, Headley said he was freed after explaining to an ISI officer named “Major Ali” about his training and ties to LeT.
He also told the court that he had suggested to an LeT operations chief named Zaki that a lawsuit be filed against the United States for labeling LeT a terrorist organization.
“Zaki said we would have to take ISI into confidence before making such a move ... He meant to consult with ISI,” he said.
Headley said he was asked to shoot video of luxury hotels, Mumbai’s bus and train terminals, the headquarters of the right-wing Shiv Sena political party and of the coastline. He was provided a GPS device to mark locales and targets.
Headley recalled how he pleased his handlers with his surveillance work and settled a dispute about where to land by suggesting a spot by some fishermen’s shanties, across from a taxi stand. Among those plotting the seaborne assault was a Pakistani navy frogman, Headley said, who agreed with his assessment.
Iqbal gave him $25,000 for expenses and requested he scout an Indian nuclear research facility.
He was told not to get close to Indians he befriended, and not to press his forehead down too hard during Muslim prayers to avoid leaving a mark and giving away his identity.
Rana — who faces the possibility of life in prison — and Headley were also charged with participating in a second plot with Pakistani militants. That plot, never carried out, allegedly targeted a Danish newspaper that published cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed which angered many Muslims.
Editing by Jeremy Pelofsky and Christopher Wilson