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David Headley’ case reveals that the ISI worked in tandem with the LeT to create mayhem inIndia

By Syed Nazakat

He was silent when he entered the room. He gave his interrogators a sharp look and then broke eye contact. David Headley was aware that after weeks of grilling by the American intelligence agencies, the officers fromIndia’s National Investigation Agency had arrived inChicagoto interrogate him. He sat confidently and spoke remorselessly about his role in the Mumbai attacks. On a Google Earth map, he identified the Lashkar-e-Toiba’s safe houses inPakistan, where he, along with Inter-Services Intelligence officers, prepared the blueprint for the attacks. He also identified the houses of many LeT commanders inPakistanand Muzaffarabad. “There was no guilt in him. He said whatever he did for his own country,” said a senior home ministry official. When on a mission, Headley told the NIA, he used to save images of potential targets on two memory sticks—one for the LeT, the other for the ISI. 

Headley’s testimony, which was recorded over 34 hours of NIA interrogation, concludes that the ISI has “control over the most important operatives of LeT and every chief of the outfit was handled by some ISI official”. This revelation is part of his interrogation report. He also revealed that an ISI brigadier, whom he identified as Brig. Riyaz, served as a handler for LeT military chief Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi and that the ISI funded the LeT and shielded its chief, Hafiz Saeed. “He is very close to the ISI,” Headley told investigators. “He is well-protected.” 

The NIA’s 119-page interrogation report reads very much like what he is saying in aChicagotrial court. According to his confession, every important member of the LeT is handled by one or more ISI officials. Headley’s own handlers were Major Iqbal and Major Sameer Ali. Headley, who has pleaded guilty on a dozen charges—including conspiring to carry out the Mumbai attacks in 2008, providing material support to terrorists and planning to kill people in India and Denmark—testified that Iqbal directed him to check out all the targets carefully. He also said that he knew of the Mumbai attack plan and had used a Chicago-based immigration business, owned by his Pakistan-born friend Tahawwur Rana, as a cover for his secret surveillance. Rana, a Canadian citizen living inChicago, is currently on trial for plotting the Mumbai attacks. 

The Headley case reveals how meticulously the LeT worked in tandem with the ISI to create mayhem inIndia. Even after 26/11, Headley was sent toIndiain March 2009 to conduct reconnaissance for more terrorist attacks. He videographed Chabad houses inDelhi, Puskhar, Goa and Pune and recceed the Vice-President’s house, the Sena Bhavan, theNationalDefenceCollegeand the Prime Minister’s residence. He surveyed routes from Raksha Bhavan to the NDC and found that the bus which takes trainee officers from Raksha Bhavan to the NDC was a vulnerable target as it had minimal security. From outside the NDC he called Rana from his cell phone. (Headley used two numbers inIndia: 9819829221 and 9820910814). According to unsealed court documents released recently, Headley has confirmed that he had visited and videotaped Bhabha Atomic Research Centre on Iqbal’s instruction in 2008. 

Back inPakistan, he gave the reconnaissance videos to Abdur Rehman, a former major of thePakistanarmy. Rehman, who is now in a Pak jail for his role in the 26/11 attacks, plotted the location of each target on Google Earth. Rehman was demoted to the rank of captain when he disobeyed his commanding officer’s order to fight the Taliban in 2002. After that he began to work for the LeT as a trainer. 

The interrogation report quotes Headley as saying, “I told Abdur Rehman that we could kill more Indian military officers in an attack on NDC than had been killed in all the wars betweenIndiaandPakistan.” Rehman told him that a man fromRawalpindiwas ready to carry out the attack on the NDC but had trouble getting a visa because of his long beard. Rehman apparently told him to shave his beard and reapply for the visa. 

According to Headley’s testimony in court, his foray into terrorism began in  an LeT training camp. He had seen a poster of the LeT inLahorein 2000 requesting funds for jihad inIndia. “I was touched by the poster. The poster had the telephone number of the LeT’s office inModelTown,Lahore. I called up the number given in the poster,” he told his interrogators. Days later two LeT members invited him to a lecture by Hafiz Saeed in the house of Shaikh Nadim, a Lahore-based businessman. In the course of his lecture, Hafiz Saeed said a moment spent in jihad gave much more sawaab (reward) than millions of namaz (prayers) offered at the Kaaba (the shrine inMecca).  

Headley admitted in court that when he joined the LeT his dream was to fight inKashmir. But it was thwarted by Sajid Mir, his LeT handler, who had other plans (read the Mumbai attack plot) for him. Mir knew that Headley was different from other men. He was older, a ladies’ man and a globe-trotter who had an extraordinary ability to strike friendship with total strangers. He had the perfect profile for a plot much bigger thanKashmir. His skills also grabbed the attention of the ISI. 

In January 2006, Major Sameer Ali of the ISI interviewed him and referred him to Major Iqbal, who became his main handler inLahore, according to Headley’s account. Iqbal brought Headley to a meeting with one Lt-Col Shah. According to court documents, the duo promised Headley financial support for terror operations againstIndia. Iqbal instructed Headley on how and where to collect video footage. After each trip, he went back toPakistanand was debriefed by LeT commanders and ISI officers.  

The central characters in further investigations are Headley’s wives Shazia Gilani and Faiza Outalha.Indiahas already sought access to Shazia, who lives inChicago. Headley told theChicagocourt that she was aware of the 26/11 plot and had congratulated him on the success of the attack. Before and after the Mumbai attacks, Headley was in touch with Shazia and Faiza through email.Indiahas told theUSthat Shazia, who married Headley in 1999, lives inChicagowith her four children. Her father had bailed out Headley after he was arrested inLahoreand detained at the Race Course police station for eight days a few months before 26/11 on the complaint by Faiza.  The 28-year-old Faiza, a Moroccan national, was a student in theLahoreMedicalCollegewhen she married Headley in 2007. Following the trail of Headley, Indian investigators found that she had visitedIndiain 2007 and 2008. During her first visit, she flew to Mumbai fromKarachiand stayed with Headley in the Taj Mahal Hotel and the Oberoi Trident, and the following year she came by road via Wagah and stayed in Manali. According to the NIA, she spent most of the time at Prakash Guest House in Manali all alone. Indian investigators are yet to figure out how a Moroccan passport holder could enterIndiathrough Wagah. As investigation went deeper they found that her Indian visa had expired and she managed to leaveIndiaundetected. 

When she discovered that Headley was already married, Faiza fought with him and complained to Hafiz Saeed in early September 2008. She claims to have shown US embassy officials inIslamabada photo of Headley and herself in the Taj Mahal Hotel, where they had stayed twice in April and May 2007. Hotel records confirm their stay. When she allegedly told them that her husband was either a terrorist or aUSagent, they snubbed her. 

From his interrogation report and court documents, it is clear that from 2005 the US Federal Bureau of Investigation knew of Headley’s links with the LeT. It is now confirmed that Headley worked as an informer of the US Drug Enforcement Agency. Indian investigators suspect that he remained on the payroll of theUSsecurity services and was also possibly working for the Central Intelligence Agency until he switched his allegiance to the LeT.  

Whether Indian authorities like it or not, the Headley case is still effectively the FBI’s case. The FBI, which arrested him, is dictating to the Indian government the dos and don’ts in this case. There are many unanswered questions about Headley’s murky world. His sudden elevation by the ISI and the LeT and his connections with theUSintelligence agencies and how he moved easily between different worlds remain a mystery. And who knows for sure where else inIndiahe recceed for future attacks? 

Faiza, who now lives inMorocco, is penning a book on her husband, which may throw light on his secret world. Curiously, her American friend George Mapp, who was also quizzed by the NIA, is the co-author.

(THE WEEK, June 12, 2011)

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