New Delhi: Indian investigators are set to interrogate Lashkar-e-Taiba operative David Coleman Headley, accused of involvement in the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attacks, in the first week of next month.
A seven-member “team lead by NIA (National Investigation Agency) is going to question Headley in June”, home secretary G.K. Pillai told Mint. The Indian side had sought time between 1 and 15 June to question the suspect and the US authorities and Headley’s lawyer agreed to this, he said.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had said on Monday that the country’s investigators would have access to Headley. “I have been assured by the highest (authorities) in the US administration that we will get access to David Headley,” Singh had said.
The team flying to Chicago comprises officials from the newly established NIA, the Mumbai police, a magistrate, legal experts and home ministry officials.
The dates were suggested after NIA, which is probing Headley role’s in the Mumbai attack and has also filed a case against him, finalized a questionnaire in consultation with the Mumbai police, according to a senior home ministry official who spoke on condition of anonymity.
“The dates were then forwarded to federal authorities in the US, the lawyer of the prosecuting agency as well as Headley’s defence lawyer for their availability at the same time,” the official said. Headley is presently lodged in a Chicago jail. After the questioning, NIA will file a chargesheet against him in an Indian court, the official said.
Headley, a Pakistani-American, was arrested by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in October 2009 for plotting an attack on a Danish newspaper. During his interrogation, he also confessed to his role in the Mumbai attacks in which gunmen killed 166 people at two hotels, a railway terminus and other targets. A few days later, FBI arrested Tahawwur Rana, said to be a close associate of Headley, on similar charges. Rana has denied being involved.
Headley, 49, told his US interrogators that he had conducted a reconnaissance of the Mumbai sites before the attacks, having visited the country several times. He also said that a serving Pakistani army major trained him in Pakistan. According to Indian investigators, he also surveyed the German Bakery in Pune, which was attacked on 13 February killing 17 people. Headley had pleaded guilty on all 12 criminal counts against him, including his role in the Mumbai attacks conspiracy. In exchange, US prosecutors agreed that he would not be extradited to a third country, including India, or face the death penalty. Headley also agreed to be questioned by any foreign agency through deposition or video conferencing.
The access to Headley came after the Prime Minister interceded with President Barack Obama during his visit to the US. The national security advisers of both countries also held talks on the same issue.
Following this, a two-member team led by solicitor general Gopal Subramanium visited the US to discuss the modalities of gaining access to Headley with counterpart attorney-general Eric Holder. Subramanium said after his return: “All the bottlenecks are removed and we have a way forward. So it’s up to us to operationalize the plan forward.”
India will use the interrogation to tie up loose ends and unravel the plot behind the Mumbai attacks. The investigators will also question Headley about the involvement of Indians in the attacks as well his Pakistani handlers.
“There is no substitute to directly questioning Headley. FBI has questioned him. They have shared a lot of information with us, but an Indian investigator fully acquainted with Indian cities and languages can question him better,” home minister P. Chidambaram told the CNN-IBN television channel on 19 May.
“If we get access to him, our agencies will definitely manage to get some useful information out of him,” said D.C. Pathak, former Intelligence Bureau chief.
External affairs minister S.M. Krishna will be travelling to Washington around the same time for the first-ever India-US Strategic Dialogue with counterpart Hillary Clinton since the talks were upgraded to a ministerial level last year. He will be accompanied by external affairs and home ministry officials and is likely to discuss Headley with Clinton. Asked about the prospects of access to Rana, the home ministry official cited above said: “Let us first get access to Headley,?then?we will consider him.”