A file photo of David Coleman Headley.
A file photo of David Coleman Headley.

David Headley says LeT asked him to recruit Indian soldiers as spies

David Headley also reveals that the initial plan was to target defence scientists at the Taj Mahal Palace

New Delhi: David Coleman Headley, the Pakistan-born American terror operative and accused-turned-approver in the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks, on Tuesday said he was working for Pakistan’s military spy agency and was told by Pakistan-based militant group Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) to recruit Indian Army soldiers to spy for the group.

Headley, who is deposing via a video link from an undisclosed location in the US, also disclosed that he had surveyed the Maharashtra state police headquarters and the naval air station in south Mumbai as possible targets, the Press Trust of India news agency reported.

“I was working for ISI (Pakistan’s military spy agency, the Inter Services Intelligence), also and met many people from Pakistani Army," Headley told the court, according to the report.

The LeT had planned to attack Indian defence scientists at the Taj Mahal Palace hotel in Mumbai, he added.

Tuesday was the second day of Headley’s testimony. The 55-year-old, who has turned approver in the case, said that he had “discussed with LeT leaders Hafiz (Saeed) ‘sahab’ and Zakiur Rehman (Lakhvi) ‘sahab’ that it would be a good idea to take the US government to court to challenge its decision to designate LeT as a foreign terrorist organization and banning it".

The 26-29 November 2008 siege of Mumbai killed 166 people, including many foreign nationals. Ten LeT militants targeted a cafe, two luxury hotels, a Jewish centre and a train station, holding the city to ransom for close to 60 hours.

Indian security forces eventually eliminated nine of them with one of the attackers being captured alive. India blames the LeT for plotting and carrying out the attack, but also suspects that the terror outfit received backing from the ISI and sections of the Pakistan military.

On Tuesday, Headley, who is serving a 35-year sentence in a US prison for his involvement in the Mumbai attacks case, continued with his disclosures.

“ISI provides financial, military and moral support to terror outfits Jaish-e-Mohammed, LeT and Hizbul Mujaideen," he said, even though he added that his opinion was formed on the basis of hearsay.

“I met Major Iqbal of ISI in Lahore in early 2006. He asked me to gather military intelligence from India and also try to recruit someone from the Indian military to spy. I told Major Iqbal that I would do as he asked," Headley said.

He said he could not say who specifically from the LeT instructed cadres to conduct terror acts in India, but added that “the group as a whole was responsible".

“We can, however, speculate that since Zakiur Rehman (Lakhvi) was the head of operations of LeT, and hence all orders would have logically come from him," Headley said.

Lakhvi was set free in April 2015 by a Pakistani court for the want of clinching evidence in the Mumbai case, a development that was immediately condemned by India. India considers Lakhvi and Hafiz Saeed prime suspects in the case.

“In November, December 2007, the LeT held a meeting in Muzaffarabad, which was attended by (Headley’s handler in the outfit) Sajid Mir... In this, meeting, it was decided that terror attacks would be conducted in Mumbai," Headley said in his deposition.

“The task of conducting the recce of Taj hotel in Mumbai was assigned to me. They (Sajid and others) had some information that there was going to be a meeting of Indian defence scientists at the conference hall in Taj hotel. They wanted to plan an attack at that time," Headley said.

“They (LeT) also made a mock (dummy) of the Taj hotel. However, the meeting of the scientists was cancelled," he said, adding that prior to November 2007, it had not been decided where the terror attacks would be conducted in India.

At first, the Chhatrapati Shivaji train station was not surveyed as a target, but for those terrorists to escape, Headley said.

“I made a video of the entire Colaba stretch from Leopold Cafe to the Chabad House (Nariman House). I also made a video of Siddhivinayak Temple as Sajid Mir specifically asked me to do so," Headley said. “I handed over all the photographs, videos and the GPS to Sajid Mir after I returned to Pakistan."