Chicago: A Chicago man pleaded guilty on Thursday to scouting targets for the deadly 2008 assault on Mumbai and plotting an attack on a Danish newspaper in which his accomplices instructed him to behead any captives.
David Headley, 49, has been cooperating with US investigators since his arrest in October and faces up to life in prison, but will escape the death penalty, prosecutors said.
He pleaded guilty to 12 counts, including conspiring to bomb and murder US, Indian and Danish citizens, and supporting the Islamist militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba, US District Judge Harry Leinenweber said. No sentencing date was set.
Headley, outfitted in an orange prison jumpsuit and leg shackles with his head closely shaved, gave mostly one-word answers to the judge’s questions, indicating he understood his plea.
In the agreement with prosecutors, Headley promised to cooperate and provide testimony against others in exchange for a pledge he would not to be extradited to India, Pakistan or Denmark.
“Not only has the criminal justice system achieved a guilty plea in this case, but David Headley is now providing us valuable intelligence about terrorist activities,” US attorney general Eric Holder said in a statement.
Three other men have been charged in the case, including Pakistani-born Chicago businessman Tahawwur Rana, 49, who has pleaded not guilty to similar charges and is being held without bond. Rana’s lawyer has said he was “duped” by Headley. Lashkar, a group fighting Indian rule in Kashmir, has denied any link to Headley or Rana.
Two Pakistanis, Ilyas Kashmiri and Abdur Rehman, are also charged in the US case, but are not in custody.
Kashmiri was described in court documents as a leader of an Islamist group with close ties to al Qaeda. Rehman, a former Pakistani army officer nicknamed “Pasha,” was Headley’s contact with Lashkar-e-Taiba, prosecutors said.
Headley was told by Kashmiri in a May 2009 meeting in Waziristan, Pakistan, that the planned attack in Denmark would be a suicide mission, so the attackers should make “martyrdom videos beforehand,” according to the plea agreement.
Headley also was told that “the attackers should behead captives and throw their heads out of the newspaper building in order to heighten the response from Danish authorities,” it said.
Aimed as revenge for the newspaper’s 2005 publication of cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammed that offended many Muslims, the attack never came off.
Headley was arrested at Chicago O’Hare International Airport on 3 October before leaving for Pakistan. He was found with about 13 surveillance videos from Denmark that he planned to deliver to his handlers.
The Denmark attack was put on hold by Lashkar because the group was facing pressure after the Mumbai attacks, the plea agreement said.
The Mumbai attacks that killed 166 people, including six Americans, strained relations between India and old rival Pakistan and led India to suspend a 4-year-old peace process.
But Kashmiri had already told Headley he could provide support for the Denmark plot and Lashkar’s backing was not needed. Headley tried to seek out Kashmiri’s European contacts, the plea agreement said.
Headley, who spent his childhood in Pakistan and whose father was Pakistani, changed his name in 2005 from Daood Gilani to ease his travels, “portraying himself in India as an American who was neither Muslim nor Pakistani.”
Prosecutors have said he scouted several targets throughout India, including figures in Bollywood, India’s movie industry.
Beginning in 2002, Headley travelled three times to Lashkar camps to receive weapons training and learn survival skills and combat tactics, according to the plea agreement.
Headley’s case number is 09-CR-830.