Less than a week before 10 Lashkar-e-Taiba operatives executed at least 173 people in Mumbai last November, David Coleman Headley checked out of a nondescript guest house near Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus and caught a flight home.
His friends in the U.S., more likely than not, would have complimented him on his fortunate escape.
Now, there is mounting suspicion among the Mumbai Police investigators that Headley may have helped facilitate the Mumbai massacre by carrying out pre-attack reconnaissance in the city.
Headley’s visits to Mumbai
Last month, the Federal Bureau of Investigations charged Headley — born Dawood Gilani in Pakistan — and his associate Tahawwur Husain Rana, with plotting terrorist attacks in Denmark and India. Headley, Mumbai Police investigators say, visited Mumbai at least five times between 2006 and 2009, claiming to work for the Immigration Law Centre — a concern run from Mumbai’s Tardeo area.
Mumbai Police investigators suspect the concern may have been used to secure passports and visas for Lashkar recruits to travel to Pakistan through west Asia. Because of his apparently western name, Headley had succeeded in obtaining a long-term business visa and faced no scrutiny from authorities.
Rana, a Pakistan-born Canadian national, also visited New Delhi and Mumbai in April, 2009 — possibly, investigators suspect, to liaise with operatives of a still-active Lashkar cell.
Transcontinental Network prosecutors in the U. S. have so far refused to publicly identify the Lashkar commanders who handled Headley and Rana.
But a credible Washington, D.C., based source familiar with the LeT has told The Hindu that one of two men held by authorities in Pakistan in connection with the arrests, at the FBI’s request, is Sajid Mir — a Lahore-based commander responsible for handling the jihadist organisation’s networks in Europe and the U.S.
India’s intelligence services have long suspected Mir put together key elements of the Mumbai attack plan, like making payments for the voice-over-internet accounts used to communicate with the fidayeen assault-squad through Barcelona-based Lashkar covert operative Javed Iqbal.
Pakistani authorities have charged Sheikhpura resident Abdul Wajid with organising these transactions for the Lashkar under the code-name ‘Zarar Shah.’ However, Pakistan has refused to allow the FBI access to Wajid, so no independent corroboration of his role--and possible links with Mir’s U.S.-Europe networks--has been possible.
Police in Pakistan have also refused to provide photographs of Wajid to India, which would allow police in Mumbai to confirm if he is indeed the individual known as Zarar Shah to jihadists who met him in the past — among them alleged Indian Mujahideen co-founder Sadiq Israr Sheikh.
It seems probable Mir’s U.S.-Europe networks had at least something to do with funding Headley’s operations. Documents filed by the FBI in a Chicago court show that although Headley claimed to represent an immigration firm, he had no ostensible source of income. None the less, he travelled abroad extensively.
The French connection much of what is known about Mir’s transcontinental terror network emerged during the investigation of Willie Brigitte — a French-born Lashkar operative held in 2003 on suspicion of planning attacks on the Lucas Heights nuclear reactor and the Pine Gap electronic intelligence-gathering station in Australia.
First recruited by the al-Jamaat ul-Salafiyyatu lil-Dawati wal-Qitaal [Group for Combat and Preaching; now renamed al-Qaeda Organization in the Islamic Maghreb] in 1998, Brigitte travelled to Pakistan hoping to fight with the Taliban.
He found himself, instead, at a Lashkar-run jihad camp. In an interview to French anti-terrorism judge Jean-Louis Bruguiere, Brigitte said he was trained as part of a group of British and the U.S. nationals.
Brigitte told interrogators in France that there was “complete complicity between Lashkar-e-Taiba and the Pakistani Army.” He claimed that the weapons used for training were military-issue.
On one occasion, Brigitte claimed camp organisers were instructed to “remove any evidence of military activity” because “a raid by a coalition of CIA [U.S. Central Intelligence Agency] agents and Pakistani soldiers was imminent.”
In February, 2002, at the end of his training, Brigitte visited Mir at the Lashkar’s headquarters in Lahore. Mir, he told French authorities, ordered him to return to Paris, and await instructions.
Brigitte waited a little over a year for his orders. In May, 2003, Mir told him to travel to Australia. His tickets, French investigators believe, were paid for by United Kingdom-based Lashkar financier Shahzad Ashraf.
Brigitte collected the money, intercepted phone calls showed, from two Paris-based Pakistani nationals Maradi Din Sheikh and Hussain Fazal.
Both men were linked to Ghulam Mustafa Rama, a close friend of Lashkar chief Hafiz Mohammad Saeed who was convicted for sending several French men to Lashkar training camps.
In Australia, Brigitte made contact with Pakistan-born architect Fahim Khalid Lodhi — a key Lashkar operative who has been convicted of plotting to blow up Sydney’s electricity grid. Lodhi, the confessional testimony of al-Timimi recruit Yong Ki Kown suggests, trained with the Lashkar at around the same time as Brigitte.
Before the two men could execute their plans, though, Brigitte was arrested by Australian authorities, on the basis of information provide by France’s intelligence service, the Direction de la Surveillance du Territoire.