26/11: Decoding the David Headley mystery

Vicky Nanjappa

New Delhi, Nov 26: David Headley came several times to India to conduct a reconnaissance of the targets that the Lashkar-e-Tayiba terrorists were supposed to hit. Not once was this man on the radar of the Indian Intelligence agencies. He came to Mumbai befriended high profile personalities, went about his job without being suspected or detected even once.

A source in the Intelligence Bureau once told this correspondent, that he had a strong and lurking suspicion that the United States was aware of what Headley was up to. They never told us anything, for reasons best to known to them, the officer also said.

He was their agent in Afghanistan and later fell out of favour after he turned rogue, the officer also informed.

26/11 anniversary: Did David Headley survive the brutal attack on him?

The US has always been secretive about David Headley. He made several trips to India on the pretext of opening an immigration office. He changed his name from Daood Gilani to David Headily so as to project himself as an American who was neither Muslim nor Hindu.

He had made five trips to Mumbai in September 2006, February and September 2007 and April and July 2008.

The maps drawn out by him were used by the ten Lashkar-e-Tayiba terrorists who attacked Mumbai on 26/11. After the attacks, the probe was conducted by the Mumbai police in detail. They were, however, unable to find the man who had provided all this information.

The police ended up arresting Sabahuddin Ahmed and Fahim Ansari on the allegation that they had conducted the reconnaissance. However, the case against both was thrown out of the court stating it was frivolous in nature.

For a good one and half years into the probe into the attack, not one officer was even aware of the existence of this man. The one fine day, news broke out from the US that the agencies out there had arrested a man called David Headley. This was news to all including the agencies in India.

The US too manipulated the issue well. India was not made aware of the arrest immediately. He was arrested, following which he entered into a plea bargain in the US, which barred him from being extradited to India. The plea bargain also stated that he shall not be sentenced to death.

As a result of this, the Indian investigations on Headley led by the National Investigation Agency only got information, which was already out there in public domain thanks to his confession before the FBI.

The question is what was the US guarding so desperately. It was later learnt that Headley was a double agent. He was sent on an assignment to Pakistan and Afghanistan by the CIA to track down the drug cartel. He is said to have turned rogue and then came in contact with the Lashkar-e-Tayiba and Al-Qaeda. The association that the US had with him after that is not clear, but the manner in which he was guarded by the United States was fishy and till date continues to be the same.

The NIA has managed to question him just once. A second request continues to remain pending.

Headley was however allowed to appear through video conferencing before a Mumbai court a few years back.

The team of the NIA which was allowed to question Headley, did not have it easy in the US. Despite landing on the stipulated date, the appointment with Headley was granted almost ten days later. The questioning of Headley did not yield much result either. The questioning was conducted under the watch of the FBI and Headley.

Prior to this, he had made a confessional statement to the FBI as part of his plea bargain deal. He did not say a word more than what he had already said. The NIA officer says that it appeared as though the FBI was present there to ensure that he did not say more than what was already on record.

The NIA also had no luck in getting in touch with Tawwahur Rana, an accomplice of Headley. Rana, according to investigations had played a vital role and was the one who facilitated the fake documents for Headley through his travel firm. Several attempts to question Rana went in vain, NIA officials also point out.

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