Pakistani American terrorist David Headley can now be directly questioned by Indian investigators after his confession in a court here that he was involved in the Mumbai terror attacks, although he will not be extradited to India.
The U.S., which has so far denied India the right to question Headley, arrested by the FBI in October last year, said he has agreed to “fully and truthfully” participate in this process which has to be undertaken only on U.S. soil.
Headley, accused of plotting the 26/11 Mumbai attacks at the behest of Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Toiba and conspiring to target a Danish newspaper, last night pleaded guilty to all terror charges before a US court here.
Under the plea bargain, he has escaped death penalty and got away with a life sentence. He also cannot be extradited from the U.S.
“When directed by the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Headley must fully and truthfully participate in any debriefings for the purpose of gathering intelligence or national security information,” the U.S. Department of Justice has said in a statement.
“Headley further agrees that, when directed by the United States Attorney’s Office, he will fully and truthfully testify in any foreign judicial proceedings held in the United States by way of deposition, video—conferencing or letters rogatory,” the statement said soon after the 49-year-old Chicago resident pleaded guilty on all 12 charges against him.
Headley’s lawyer John Theis told reporters after the over 30-minute hearing held before US District Judge Harry Leinenweber that “he has agreed to allow himself to be interviewed by foreign governments in this country” as part of the agreement.
India, which had pressed for the maximum death penalty to Headley, can now approach the US to directly question him.
His admission of being trained in Pakistan terror camps nails Islamabad’s lie that such camps were non—existant.
Headley faces six counts of conspiracy involving bombing public places in India, murdering and maiming persons and providing material support to foreign terrorist plots and LeT; and six counts of aiding and abetting the murder of six US citizens in the 26/11 attacks that killed 166 people.
Under the plea agreement, Headley cannot be extradited to India, Pakistan or Denmark.
“Headley has agreed to not only continue his cooperation with the government, which he has been doing since October, but also to make himself available for interviews by other governments in this country,” Headley’s attorney Theis said.
Headley, who had pleaded not guilty on January 14 to the charges against him, did a U-turn in the 35—page plea agreement and admitted to all the charges.
When asked, if this means that Indian investigators could come to US and talk to Headley, even about the Mumbai attacks, Mr. Theis said “Yes. If he refuses to talk to foreign governments here, it would mean a violation of the plea agreement“.
The plea agreement states that whenever directed by the US Attorney’s Office, “Headley must fully and truthfully participate in any debriefings for the purpose of gathering intelligence or national security information.”
Since his arrest in October, Headley has been cooperating with the government and has provided substantial assistance in the investigation of this case as well as “critical” information regarding intelligence on other matters.
He said all the information that Headley has given to U.S. authorities is and has been shared with India and Denmark.
Asked if plea agreement was a setback to India, Mr. Theis said “I can’t see how it can be interpreted as a setback for India. They are going to have the same opportunities that the U.S. here to question Headley and he will make himself available.”
“Obviously, his lawyer will be present but he is required under the terms of the agreement to cooperate with Indian authorities as well as Danish or Pakistani if they choose to do the same thing,” he said.
Through the 13 days that Headley “talked”, he was informed of his right to remain silent, of his right to counsel, that anything he said could and would be used against him.
“But he chose not to exercise those rights and in fact to provide timely, thorough, trustworthy and complete information,” Headley’s lawyer Robert Seeder added.
Seeder said the information provided by Headley has “significantly helped the United States and has also aided other countries“.
The lawyers refused to comment on the issue of Headley, son of a former Pakistani diplomat and a Philadelphia socialite, being a double agent. “There is nothing in the plea agreement about anything about that (his being a double agent). I don’t know where that kind of language comes from“.
On whether Headley would get a life sentence, Mr. Theis said the range of the sentence could be either life or any other sentence less than that as authorised by law.
“It is obviously a complicated case. Sentencing is up to Judge Leinenweber. This case has a long way to go,” he added.
Meanwhile, US Attorney spokesperson Randall Samborn said life imprisonment in the case of Headley is the maximum sentence without probation.
He said Headley is “not eligible for probation”