CHICAGO — A Chicago man admitted in court Thursday that he scouted out the Indian city of Mumbai before a 2008 terrorist attack that left 166 dead and helped plan an attack a Danish newspaper that never took place.
David Coleman Headley, a 49-year old American citizen, pleaded guilty to all 12 counts he faced in U.S. District Court. He wore a prison-issued orange jumpsuit in court, and spoke softly in a British accent when asked by U.S. District Judge Harry Leinenweber if he was pleading guilty of his own free will.
He could have been sentenced to death if convicted of the most serious charges — conspiracy to bomb public places in India and six counts of murdering U.S. nationals in India. But he will not be executed under an agreement with federal prosecutors as long as he continues to co-operate with their investigation of terrorist activities.
Headley admitted in his signed plea agreement that he made surveillance videos and conducted other intelligence gathering for the November 2008 attack on Mumbai. The U.S. and India say the 10 gunmen who carried out the attack were trained and directed by the Pakistani-based terrorist group Lashkar e Taiba (Army of the Pure).
Headley also said he met with a Pakistan-based terrorist leader, Ilyas Kashmiri, in a tribal area of western Pakistan in May 2009, and that Kashmiri told him that he had a European contact who could provide Headley with money, weapons and manpower for an attack on Denmark’s Jyllands Posten newspaper.
He said men he knew as “elders,” and whom he understood to be leaders of Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaida terrorist network, urged swift action in attacking the newspaper, which offended many Muslims in 2005 by publishing a dozen cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad.
He said Kashmiri wanted newspaper employees beheaded and the heads thrown from the building to send a message to the Danish public and authorities. Headley said Kashmiri said it should be a suicide attack, and that the attackers should prepare martyrdom videos.
According to the indictment, Kashmiri has been in regular communication with al-Qaida’s No. 3, Sheikh Mustafa Abu al-Yazid.
Attorney General Eric Holder issued a statement from Washington saying that “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.”
“As this case demonstrates, we must continue to use every tool available to defeat terrorism both at home and abroad,” Holder said.
A co-defendant, Tahawwur Hussain Rana, a 49-year-old Canadian national living in Chicago, is charged with conspiracy to provide material support to terrorism in Denmark and India as well as to Lashkar-e-Taiba. Rana has pleaded not guilty.
Retired Pakistani military man Abdur Rehman Hashim Syed and Kashmiri are also accused in the plot against the Danish newspaper. Kashmiri is described in the indictment as having regular contact with al-Qaida’s No. 3, Sheikh Mustafa Abu al-Yazid.
The exact whereabouts of Syed and Kashmiri are unknown.