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Updated: January 8, 2010 08:23 IST

Headley breakthrough hits brick wall

Praveen Swami
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RUNNING OUT OF CLUES: TV grab of David Coleman Headley, on trial for the the Mumbai attacks. File photo
RUNNING OUT OF CLUES: TV grab of David Coleman Headley, on trial for the the Mumbai attacks. File photo

The arrest of David Coleman Headley was a source of great hope to investigators, who hoped to nab bigger fish in the LeT terrorist pool. However, Despite pressure on Pakistan, the US has been unable to arrest Headley's superior in the LeT, Sajid Mir.

Four weeks ago, when the Federal Bureau of Investigation charged Pakistani-American jihadist David Headley with having played a key role in the terrorist attack on Mumbai in November 2008, India was hopeful of a breakthrough that would lead to the identification of key perpetrators. Instead, the investigation has run into a brick wall.

Despite sustained diplomatic pressure on Pakistan, government sources in New Delhi have told The Hindu, the United States has failed to secure the arrest of Sajid Mir — the top Lashkar-e-Taiba operative alleged to have tasked Headley with reconnaissance of the targets.

Mir is also alleged to have used Headley to carry out surveillance for an assault on the offices of the Jyllands Posten newspaper in Copenhagen. FBI investigators, the sources said, now believe Headley was a relatively minor cog in the Lashkar’s machinery. During hours of questioning, Headley was unable to cast light on who in the Lashkar hierarchy planned and authorised the attack.

Headley, the sources said, may have been just one of multiple Lashkar operatives who carried out reconnaissance in Mumbai.

Notably, the sources said, Headley’s confession did not appear to fully account for the detailed videotape of the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus train station, which surviving Lashkar assault-team member Mohammad Ajmal Amir Kasab said he had been shown during training.

Bar the confession, the FBI has so far gathered little evidence on the attacks. Part of the reason for that, FBI officials have told their Indian counterparts, has been Pakistan’s failure to arrest Mir or to allow them to question other key suspects held in that country.

In February, Pakistan’s Federal Investigation Agency charged Lashkar operatives Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi, his deputy Mazhar Iqbal and Abdul Wajid with “planning, preparation, [and] execution of [the] Mumbai terrorist attacks.” But the FIA made no reference to Mir, or to Headley’s surveillance.

Pakistan has also offered little information on the linkages between the Lashkar and al-Qaeda — one of the key revelations thrown up by the Headley investigation.

Mir’s plans for an assault on the Jyllands Posten were preceded by al-Qaeda calls for assaults on the newspaper.

In March 2008, al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri had published The Exoneration, a 188-page book which repeatedly referred to the cartoons published by the Jyllands Posten, and called for the assassination of their authors. For reasons that remain unexplained, al-Qaeda was unable to mount such an operation. However, the FBI’s investigation suggests, Mir took on the task on its behalf.

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