International terrorist David Coleman Headley, 52, was sentenced to 35 years in a US federal prison yesterday for his key role in plotting deadly attacks in Mumbai in 2008.
Headley, 52, pleaded guilty and co-operated with US authorities to avoid the death penalty and extradition to India. He was found guilty on all 12 charges against him, including conspiracy to aid militants from the Pakistani group Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) which carried out the attacks. The 60-hour assault on Mumbai began on 26 November 2008. Attacks on the railway station, luxury hotels and a Jewish cultural centre claimed 166 lives. Nine gunmen were also killed.
Headly also pleaded guilty to taking part in a plot, along with co-conspirator Canadian-Pakistani businessman Tahawwur Rana, to attack Jyllands-Posten’s headquarters in Copenhagen and Aarhus and behead employees and thrown their heads into the street. The plot was in response to the newspaper's publishing of cartoons of the prophet Mohammed, which led to protests around the world and hatched various terrorist retribution plots.
Headley testified that in late 2008 and early 2009, he advised Rana of his intent to travel to Copenhagen to conduct surveillance of the newspaper’s facilities in both towns. Rana helped Headley print business cards and other documents identifying him as a representative of Rana’s immigration law centre who was interested in advertising in the newspaper.
Evidence presented included transcripts of recorded conversations from September 2009, in which Rana and Headley agreed that funds that Rana had received from LeT could be used to fund Headley’s work in Denmark. The evidence also showed that Rana pretended to be Headley in an email sent to the newspaper.
Last week, Rana was sentence to in 14 years in prison for his part in the plots.
Headley was the US government's star witness against Rana, an old friend from their days at a Pakistani military school.
Headley had faced life imprisonment, but US District Judge Harry Leinenweber said he had taken into account his co-operation in the case, even if "the damage that was done was unfathomable".
"I don't have any faith in Mr Headley when he says he's a changed person and believes in the American way of life," Leinenweber said while delivering the verdict, adding that it would have been much easier to impose the death penalty on Headley.
"That is what you deserve.”
Leinenweber sentenced Rana last week.
Despite the sentence handed down to Headley, authorities say the case is far from closed.
"Our investigation into the Mumbai attacks and Danish terror plans is ongoing and active," Lisa Monaco, a US attorney assisting in prosecuting the case, told the media outside the courtroom after the verdict was handed down against Headley.
Monaco called the judgement against Headley "an important milestone" in the efforts to hold the perpetrators accountable, but said that several suspects remain at large. Headley met with terrorists in Sweden and England, but there have as yet been no arrests in those countries in connection with the case.
Prosecutors said during the trail that the threat against Denmark had been very real.
“When Headley was arrested, many people in government – at a very high level – were concerned about Denmark," Patrick Fitzgerald, the lead prosecutor in the case, told the court.
Both Headley and Rana were arrested in 2009. Headley was on his way to Copenhagen when he was arrested by FBI agents in Chicago.
Headley was born Daood Gilani to a Pakistani father and American mother but changed his name to David Coleman Headley in 2006 "to present himself in India as an American who was neither Muslim nor Pakistani", prosecutors said. He was a small-time narcotics dealer turned US Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) informer who went rogue.
Indian officials said they will continue attempts to extradite Headley to stand trial in that country.
"India wants a death sentence for David Headley and all those involved in Mumbai terror attacks,” Indian home secretary, RK Singh, told India Today newspaper.