Eight months after his arrest in the U.S., prospects look bright for Indian investigators to get access to David Coleman Headley (49), an American citizen of partial Pakistani descent who allegedly helped the Lashkar-e-Taiba plan and carry out the 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks.
A team of four investigators is likely to leave for the U.S. soon to question David Headley, official sources said. The Chicago-bound team will have three officers of the National Investigation Agency (NIA) and a law officer. It could get a chance to quiz David Headley next week. Sources said that some paper work of a legal nature was yet to be completed.
The sources said the team was being sent following a communication from the U.S. Justice Department that all officials concerned and Headley's lawyer would be available during the visit to facilitate access. However, the sources pointed out, it was not clear for how many hours or days the team would get direct access to Headley, lodged in a Chicago prison.
He was arrested in October last year and in March this year he pleaded guilty to a dozen federal terrorism charges, admitting that he had participated in planning the November 2008 attacks in Mumbai as well as later planning to attack a Danish newspaper.
India has been demanding direct access and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh told a national press conference last week that the highest authorities in the U.S. had promised to make it possible.
In pleading guilty to all the 12 counts brought against him in December 2009 and repeated in a subsequent indictment in January, Headley admitted that he attended training camps in Pakistan operated by the LeT, a designated terrorist organisation, on five separate occasions between 2002 and 2005. In late 2005, he received instructions from three members of the Lashkar to travel to India to conduct surveillance, which he did five times leading up to the Mumbai attacks three years later that killed 166 people, including six Americans and wounded hundreds more.
A written plea agreement containing a detailed recitation of Headley's participation in the foreign terrorism conspiracies was presented before a Federal Court in Chicago when he changed his plea to guilty. In the light of his past cooperation and expected future cooperation, the Attorney General has authorised the U.S. Attorney in Chicago not to seek the death penalty. He has also further agreed that he will fully and truthfully testify in any foreign judicial proceedings held in the United States by way of deposition, videoconferencing or letters rogatory.
On his links with Lashkar, it was alleged that after receiving instructions to travel to India to conduct surveillance, Headley changed his name from Daood Gilani to portray himself in India as an American who was neither Muslim nor Pakistani. In the early summer of 2006, Headley and two Lashkar members discussed opening an immigration office in Mumbai as a cover for his surveillance activities.
One of his accomplices, Tahawwur Rana, 49, also of Chicago, who was indicted in January on three counts, has pleaded not guilty and remains in federal custody while awaiting trial.