Washington: Three years before Pakistani terrorists struck Mumbai in 2008, federal agents in New York City investigated a tip that David Coleman Headley was training in Pakistan with Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT), according to an investigative report.
The previously undisclosed allegations against Pakistani American Headley, who has confessed to his role in the plot that killed 166 people, came from his wife after a domestic dispute that resulted in his arrest in August 2005, the Washington Post said in a report by ProPublica, an independent, nonprofit newsroom.
In three interviews with federal agents, Headley’s wife said that he was an active militant in the LeT terrorist group, had trained extensively in its Pakistani camps, and had shopped for night-vision goggles and other equipment, it said citing officials and sources close to the case.
In addition to a detailed account of his activity with LeT, she showed them audio cassettes and ideological material and described his e-mails and calls from Pakistan and to individuals whom she thought to be extremists, the report said.
The wife, whom ProPublica did not identify to protect her safety, also told agents that Headley had bragged of working as a paid US informant while he trained with the terrorists in Pakistan, according to a person close to the case. Federal officials say the FBI “looked into” the tip, but they declined to say what, if any, action was taken. Headley was jailed briefly in New York on charges of domestic assault but was not prosecuted.
He wasn’t arrested until 11 months after the Mumbai attack when British intelligence alerted US authorities that he was in contact with Al Qaeda operatives in Europe.
In the four years between the wife’s warning and Headley’s capture, LeT sent Headley on reconnaissance missions around the world, the ProPublica report said. It is not clear from the available information whether a different response to the tip about Headley might have averted the Mumbai attacks, the report said.
The tip from Gilani’s wife came at a crucial moment: after he had finished training and soon before he met with terrorist bosses in Pakistan and launched into the Mumbai plot, court documents say.
It is not known if the investigators ever questioned Headley about his wife’s revelations. But as the plot took shape in 2008, US anti-terrorism agencies warned Indian counterparts at least three times about a suspected LeT plan to attack Mumbai, according to Indian and US officials.
There has been speculation in news reports and among anti-terrorism officials that the United States got that information by monitoring Headley, either as an informant, an ex-informant or a suspect.
US officials have not disclosed any link between Headley and the warnings, and there might be no connection. But some of the warnings coincided with Headley’s trips to Mumbai and Pakistan, the report noted.
Now in a federal prison in Chicago, Headley has become a treasure trove of information about LeT and Al Qaeda, whose recent suspected Mumbai-style plots in Europe have been linked to Ilyas Kashmiri, an Al Qaeda kingpin in Pakistan, the report said citing anti-terrorism officials.
Last week Interpol announced that it had issued worldwide Indian arrest warrants for Kashmiri and four other top
suspects in the Mumbai and Denmark cases, all of whom have been identified by Headley, officials say.
Parts of the story contain nagging gaps. Headley’s motivations are part of the mystery. “I think he did it for the juice,” a person close to the case was cited as saying. “Everything he did was for the excitement.”