NPR logo Chicago Terrorism Suspect Charged In Mumbai Attack

Law

Chicago Terrorism Suspect Charged In Mumbai Attack

U.S. prosecutors have charged a Chicago man with helping to plan the 2008 terrorist attacks in Mumbai, India, which killed 166 people, including six Americans.

American David Coleman Headley, 49, was arrested in October. At that time, he was accused of planning to attack the offices of the Danish newspaper that had published cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad. That attack never took place. Headley was also accused of training with a Pakistani terrorist group called Lashkar-e-Taiba. He now faces much more serious charges related to the massacre in India, which was carried out by the group.

Court documents unsealed Monday allege that Headley conducted extensive surveillance of targets in Mumbai for more than two years before the attacks. According to the court papers, Headley's reconnaissance helped the gunmen decide how to come into India undetected.

Lashkar-e-Taiba's leaders allegedly asked Headley to take a number of boat trips around Mumbai's harbor to scout the best landing sites for attackers to come in by sea. The attackers did end up landing in Mumbai by water. Prosecutors also allege that he provided Lashkar-e-Taiba with videotapes and maps, and details on a number of the sites that were attacked — including the Taj Mahal hotel, the Leopold cafe and a train station.

Headley has been charged with conspiracy to murder and maim in a foreign country, and material support of terrorism. Federal officials say the most serious charges of conspiring to carry out bombings could mean death or life in prison.

Headley, an American citizen, was born in Washington, D.C., to a former Pakistani diplomat and a Philadelphia socialite. His given name was Daood Gilani, but prosecutors say he changed it about three years ago so he could go to India and present himself as an American without attracting attention.

Officials say Headley's role in the Mumbai attacks is an important development in the year-old investigation. Until now, the probe had been marred by disagreements between the Pakistani and Indian governments. The investigation was at somewhat of a standstill. Now that the U.S. is involved, the dynamic has changed. For example, the FBI is helping with the inquiry, focusing on the six Americans who were killed, so it has its own reasons for ensuring that all facets of the plot are uncovered.

In addition, Headley has apparently started cooperating with the FBI and has provided details on the planning of the Mumbai attacks. That would make him an important new source of information about the attacks: an American allegedly on the inside of a terrorist plot. The FBI sent a team to India over the weekend to brief intelligence officials there on what they have learned from Headley so far.

Two other men have been implicated in the case. Chicago businessman Tahawwur Rana was arrested with Headley two months ago and accused of providing material support to a terrorist organization. And Pakistani officials have arrested a former military man named Abdur Rehman, who lives in Lahore, Pakistan. He is accused of helping to plan the Danish newspaper and Mumbai plots.