He will be charged in Mumbai terror attack case at an “appropriate time”

Though Pakistani-American David Coleman Headley, alleged to have done the groundwork for the 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks, struck a plea bargain in a U.S. court, India on Friday maintained that it was not a “setback'' and hoped to get access to him.

Talking to journalists after Headley, suspected to be an operative of the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) terrorist group, pleaded guilty to all 12 terror-related charges against him before a Chicago court on Thursday, Home Minister P. Chidambaram said that India would continue to seek his extradition but admitted that the task was not going to be easy. He said that Headley would be charged in the 26/11 case at an “appropriate time.''

“It is not a setback,'' he said when asked to comment on the plea bargain between Headley and the U.S. government under which Headley could escape the death penalty but would be imprisoned for life. “I have seen a copy of the plea agreement. In return, the prosecutors have agreed that they will not seek the death penalty and he will not be extradited to India or Denmark or Pakistan,'' Mr. Chidambaram said. He pointed out that Headley was charged with crimes across different countries.

“If Headley had committed the crime only in India, extradition would have been easy. He has committed the crime in both countries. We must remember there were six Americans who died in the Mumbai attacks. The American authorities have the jurisdiction to prosecute him. Since he was apprehended in the U.S., I always knew there would be a problem in his extradition. We will continue to maintain our plea for extradition,'' the Home Minister said.

Mr. Chidambaram said India had already got enough information from the U.S. regarding Headley's involvement in terror-related activities. “Access is one thing, information is another. We have been given a significant amount of information about their investigation. We want access to get more information. In any judicial proceedings in the U.S. the Indian authorities have the right to question either through videoconferencing or through letters rogatory. So, there is a good chance that he will testify in a U.S. court where Indian authorities will have a chance to ask questions,” he said.

Mr. Chidambaram, however, added that the fate of the plea bargain would depend on the court, which is not a party to it, although the court was “by and large bound'' by it.

The Home Minister said the plea agreement did not rule out either information or testimony. “If he [Headley] agrees to testify through a judicial proceeding, then we will have the right to question him. Headley has agreed that he will fully testify in any foreign judicial proceedings held in the U.S. I don't know how long the process of testimony will take in the U.S. We have to see how things move forward. We have to be patient. I am a very patient man,'' he added.

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