Chicago: Pakistani-American David Coleman Headley, charged with conspiring in the Mumbai terror attacks, is set to plead guilty before a US court in an apparent bid to bargain for a lighter sentence and escape death penalty.
49-year-old Headley, who was arrested by the FBI in October last year, has moved a plea bargain at a court here which will come up for hearing late on Thursday night before US district judge Harry Leinenweber.
Headley, an LeT operative who had pleaded not guilty to the 12-count superseding indictment filed against him on 14 January, had Wednesday moved for a “change of plea”.
A Chicago resident, Headley faces six counts of conspiracy involving bombing public places in India, murdering and maiming persons in India and providing material support to foreign terrorist plots and LeT; and six counts of aiding and abetting the murder of US citizens in India.
He is also charged with plotting attacks against a Danish newspaper which published a cartoon of Prophet Mohammad.
Indian security establishment feel if Headley is awarded lesser sentence, it would lend credence to suspicions that he may have been a double agent, working for both American agencies and LeT.
Indian officials, who have been watching the progress in the case at Chicago, is somewhat worried about reports emanating from there that Headley would be pleading guilty in an attempt to get a lighter sentence.
As Headley prepared to change his plea to guilty, media here said he may be bargaining for life in prison.
“...with prosecutors having the cooperation of a man inside the conspiracy that allegedly carried out the 2008 terrorist attack in Mumbai,” a Chicago public radio report said.
“These co-conspirators do not tape record what they are doing internally so there is no real way to find out what happened inside these secretive associations unless you get somebody who is inside to cooperate with you,” it said.
ABC7News termed it as a “triumph for federal terrorism prosecutors”.
“In a triumph for federal terrorism prosecutors in Chicago, accused Mumbai attack planner David Coleman Headley will plead guilty. The change of plea comes five months after Headley, an American-Islamic fundamentalist, was arrested at his Chicago home by the FBI,” it said in a report.
The report further said the guilty plea “comes as a blow to the defence of accused co-conspirator Tahawwur Hussain Rana”, who was arrested and charged a few weeks after Headley.
“Their alleged partnership is odd and was born out of Muslim extremism,” it added.
The ‘Chicago SunTimes´ said some of Headley’s cooperation laid the groundwork for an indictment against Pakistani-Canadian Rana, who ran an immigration business in the city that was used as a cover for Headley’s trips to India.
If convicted, Headley faces maximum death penalty.
John Theis, Headley’s lawyer, said his client will plead guilty, but declined to comment on whether he would do so to all the charges against him.
The American terror suspect had got away with a lesser sentence after he was arrested in 1998 for smuggling heroin into the US from Pakistan as he cooperated with the investigation in the case.
He was sentenced to less than two years in prison and thereafter went to Pakistan to conduct undercover surveillance operations for the Drug Enforcement Administration.