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Chicago man is charged in Mumbai attacks

A U.S. citizen is accused of conducting surveillance of hotels and other targets in the 2008 assault. He has also been charged with plotting an attack on a Danish newspaper.

December 08, 2009|By Jeff Coen and Josh Meyer

Reporting from Washington and Chicago — Months before a team of terrorists killed about 170 people in coordinated attacks in Mumbai, India, a Chicago man was conducting surveillance of the hotels and other locations that would come under assault, prosecutors said Monday.

David Coleman Headley was charged by federal authorities with conducting surveillance that helped plan the November 2008 attacks. Prosecutors say Headley, a Pakistani American, spent more than two years visiting locations including the Taj Mahal Palace & Tower hotel that was stormed by gunmen.

The criminal complaint said Headley concealed his missions by purporting to be the representative of a business owned by another Chicagoan. He took his pictures and videotapes to Pakistan, where he met with leaders of the terrorist organization blamed for the Mumbai attacks, Lashkar-e-Taiba, according to the complaint.

"In or around March 2008, Headley was instructed to take boat trips in and around the Mumbai harbor and take surveillance video," the criminal complaint said. "Headley met with other co-conspirators, and discussed potential landing sites for a team of attackers who would arrive by sea" in Mumbai.

The 10-man attack team used firearms and grenades to assault two hotels, a cafe, a train station, a Jewish center and other sites. Six Americans were among those killed.

Headley, 49, was one of two Chicago men charged in October with plotting an attack on the Jyllands-Posten newspaper in Denmark over its publication of unflattering cartoons of the prophet Muhammad. He conducted surveillance of the newspaper's offices in Copenhagen as recently as January, officials said, and was arrested at O'Hare International Airport in Chicago as he tried to go to Pakistan with photos from the trip.

Also charged in the newspaper plot was Tahawwur Hussain Rana, who is under investigation for possibly paying for Headley's India missions, said sources who requested anonymity when discussing the ongoing inquiry. Rana, who owns a meatpacking plant outside Chicago and an immigration services business, was not part of the charges detailed Monday.

But added to the newspaper case was Abdur Rehman Hashim Syed, identified as a retired Pakistani army officer who is accused of participating in the planning for the Denmark operation. He is not in custody and is believed to be in Pakistan, officials said.

Several current and former law enforcement and intelligence officials said the Headley case underscored a disconcerting wrinkle in their counter-terrorism efforts: that U.S.-based militants might pose a threat not just domestically but overseas as well.

Kenneth Wainstein, homeland security and counter-terrorism advisor to President George W. Bush, said: "One thing that struck me was the threat everyone has been concerned about has been terrorists making their way to Europe and then staging attacks in the U.S. from there. . . . If the allegations [against Headley] are true, it puts America in the camp of countries that could be a source of terrorist threats to other countries."

Headley, who is cooperating with authorities, was indicted on six counts of conspiracy related to the Mumbai attack and six counts of aiding and abetting the murder of U.S. citizens in India. Officials said he trained in 2001 with Lashkar-e-Taiba, which means "Army of the Pure" and aims to wrest the Kashmir region from Indian control.

The charges -- and affidavits filed in support of them -- raise troubling questions about the links between Lashkar-e-Taiba and Pakistan's army and military intelligence agency.

Pakistan has no extradition policy with the U.S., but the charges against Rehman could force Pakistan to either arrest him or further antagonize India and Washington. India long has charged that senior Pakistani military and intelligence officials use Lashkar-e-Taiba and other militant groups as a proxy fighting force against them and in Afghanistan.

Some U.S. congressional leaders have threatened to withhold billions of dollars in funding for Pakistan over similar concerns.

jcoen@tribune.com

josh.meyer@latimes.com

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