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U.S. citizen pleads guilty to aiding terror attack in India

David Coleman Headley takes a deal on charges that he scouted targets for a 2008 assault in Mumbai that killed about 170 people, including six Americans.

March 19, 2010|By Jeff Coen
  • David Coleman Headley, right, in an artist's sketch, before U.S. District Judge Harry Leinenweber. The deal allows him to avoid the death penalty.
David Coleman Headley, right, in an artist's sketch, before U.S.… (VERNA SADDOCK / EPA )

Reporting from Chicago — A U.S. citizen of Pakistani descent pleaded guilty Thursday to charges that he scouted targets in advance of the coordinated terrorist attack in Mumbai, India, in 2008 that killed about 170 people, including six Americans.

David Coleman Headley, 49, of Chicago also acknowledged in U.S. District Court that he scouted targets for an attack that was never carried out against a Danish newspaper that drew the ire of much of the Muslim world after publishing unflattering cartoons about the prophet Muhammad.

According to Headley's plea agreement, Ilyas Kashmiri, a leader of the Pakistani terrorist organization Lashkar-e-Taiba who was also indicted but remains at large, specified that the attackers of the Danish newspaper should behead captives and throw the heads out of the office to heighten the effect of the assault.

Headley said he met in person with Kashmiri in May and was instructed to meet with a European contact.

In return for Headley's cooperation and testimony against codefendant Tahawwur Hussain Rana, a Chicago businessman of Pakistani descent also charged in both plots, the Justice Department agreed not to seek the death penalty for Headley.

Headley pleaded guilty to 12 counts that included conspiring to bomb public places in India, to murder and maim people in India and Denmark, to provide material support to foreign terrorist plots and to provide material support to Lashkar-e-Taiba, and to aiding and abetting the murder of U.S. citizens in India.

Headley changed his name from Daood Gilani to ease his overseas travels, authorities said.

The case is being prosecuted by U.S. Atty. Patrick J. Fitzgerald, who said in court that Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr. had personally approved the plea deal.

In a statement, Holder called it an important step toward justice for the victims of the Mumbai attack.

"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," Holder said.

"As this case demonstrates, we must continue to use every tool available to defeat terrorism both at home and abroad."

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