New insights emerge into David Headley's multiple lives

“The best way for a man to die is by the sword,” wrote the Pakistani-American Lashkar-e-Taiba operative David Headley in a 2009 e-mail, defending the beheading of a Polish engineer by the Taliban.

Evidence presented before the court of district judge Harry Linenweber on Tuesday provided new insights into the jihadist who carried out the surveillance operation that guided a Lashkar assault team to Mumbai in November 2008 and led to the deaths of 164 men, women and children.

Headley's life, the evidence suggested, was driven at least as much by fear as fanaticism: fear which led him to routinely deceive his loved ones, betray the faith he claimed to be fighting for — and, prosecutors say, lie in order to secure a reduced sentence.

Patrick Blegen, co-counsel for Tahawwur Rana, the Pakistani-Canadian businessman, argued that Headley had fabricated testimony implicating his client in terrorist plots.

In a November 9, 2009, conversation, recorded by prison authorities, Headley told his wife that he had made a “big sacrifice” to secure her freedom and that of his brother, a Pakistani bureaucrat. Mr. Blegen argued that his client, whose immigration business Headley used as a cover, was that “sacrifice.”

Prosecutors deny the allegation and have relied on e-mail exchanges and intercepted conversations to build their case.

Lies and love ran through the testimony presented in Judge Linenweber's court.

Even as they face off in court, the lives of Headley and Rana remain enmeshed. Shazia Gilani, Headley's wife, lives in an apartment a short walk from the Rana home, off Devon Street in Chicago — a neighbourhood that is home to a large population of South Asian origin.

Rana's wife — like her husband, a doctor by training — continues to pay Ms. Gilani's rent, returning in instalments over $100,000 loaned to the family by Headley in 2008, after he sold two video-rental stores he ran in New York.

Evidence shows Headley seems to be wishing away the reality of his situation. In one taped prison conversation, he told his children that he could be out of jail in as little as two or three months. His wife, in turn, heard that his time in prison might only last three years. In fact, his plea bargain agreement with prosecutors makes clear that he is likely to serve a life sentence — even though he will avoid the death penalty and possible extradition. The points-based system of sentencing guidelines used in the United States runs from 1 to 43, depending on the gravity of the offence. Headley's offences, his plea agreement shows, are off the scale, at 59.

Headley seemed unfazed when he was confronted with his misrepresentation of the facts. “I'm trying to give hope,” he told Mr. Blegen, “in a hopeless situation.”

Headley's complex personal life also figured extensively in the courtroom testimony. In a conversation that took place on January 20 this year, Headley sought to placate a furious Ms. Gilani who had just learned that he had in fact been married to another woman. “You make a fool of us,” Ms. Gilani said.

Her husband promptly swore on the Koran that the allegations were untrue, adding that no longer ought he be considered a Muslim if he broke his vow.

“Now tell me,” Ms. Gilani asked, “were you with her in 2008”?

“Absolutely not,” Mr. Headley replied.

The record, though, shows he was in fact married to Faiza Outhalla, a Lahore-based medical student. Headley divorced her to evade pressure from his family and then married her again after she filed a complaint with police in Lahore that led to his incarceration for several days.

He also had another bigamous marriage with a New York-based make-up artist, Portia Gilani, which ended in divorce in 2005.

Headley married Shazia Gilani, daughter of a retired Pakistan soldier, in 1999. Ms. Gilani moved to the United States in 2008, along with their four children — Haider, Osama, Sumya and Hafsa.

Interestingly, both Ms. Outhalla and Portia Gilani separately complained to the United States authorities that Headley was involved with the Lashkar — but were ignored by officials, who believed their accounts were motivated by personal malice.

Evidence also emerged that Headley was diagnosed in 1992 with multiple personality disorder — a condition which includes the possession of multiple mannerisms, attitudes and beliefs. His personal life could provide an explanation for why he sought psychological counselling.

He was born Daood Gilani. His parents — the Philadelphia socialite Serill Headley and Pakistani poet and diplomat Syed Salim Gilani — divorced soon after they moved to Islamabad in 1960. Mrs. Headley returned to Philadelphia. Headley was admitted to a boarding school, where he first met Rana, but then moved to the United States in 1977. He rebelled against his mother's heavy drinking and multiple sexual relationships by expressing a loathing for all non-Muslims.

“Most people have contradictions in their lives, but they learn to reconcile them,” William Headley, Mr. Headley's uncle, told The New York Times. “But Daood could never do that. The left side does not speak to the right side.”

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Printable version | Jan 18, 2021 1:40:19 AM |

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