Arrests in Chicago drive home global nature of terrorism threat

By Peter Slevin and Spencer S. Hsu
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, November 20, 2009

CHICAGO -- David C. Headley, a peripatetic Chicagoan accused of scouting potential terrorism targets in India and plotting to kill two Danish journalists, was not always David C. Headley.

Until 2006, he was Daood Gilani, but he told investigators he had changed his name to raise less suspicion when he traveled abroad. He lived anonymously in an apartment leased in the name of a dead person. He changed e-mail accounts often and spoke in code on the telephone.

The strategy worked less than perfectly, according to the FBI, which arrested him on terrorism charges last month at O'Hare International Airport on the first leg of a trip to Pakistan. In his luggage were digital videos he took of a Danish newspaper office and a book titled "How to Pray Like a Jew."

Headley and Chicago businessman Tahawwur Hussain Rana are suspected Islamist militants charged not with targeting the United States, but with staging foreign operations from relative anonymity on American soil. Their profile is a fresh one, and it is being viewed by U.S. authorities with alarm.

One counterterrorism official described as "eye-opening" an investigation that concluded the two men worked with two Pakistan-based terrorist organizations allied with al-Qaeda, Lashkar-i-Taiba and Harkat-e-Jihad-e-Islami. It is a reminder, others said, that al-Qaeda or its imitators continue to try to build a network of operatives inside the United States.

The case "stands our counterterrorism approach on its head," said Rep. Jane Harman (D-Calif.), chairman of a Homeland Security subcommittee on intelligence. "We've been looking for people who want to attack us, whether foreign or U.S. persons, in the United States. We haven't really been looking at U.S. persons who want to attack other countries."

Several American officials saw an echo of the case against Najibullah Zazi, a Denver airport shuttle driver accused in September of training with al-Qaeda in Pakistan and plotting a backpack bombing in New York.

A U.S. law enforcement official said investigators are tracking several suspects in the Zazi case, mostly in the United States. A counterterrorism official said the investigation into Headley's domestic contacts remains open and active.

Mumbai attacks

One of Headley's alleged Lashkar-i-Taiba associates was arrested in Pakistan this summer, and the U.S. case has triggered a broad investigation in India. Government authorities there suspect Headley played a role in advance of the November 2008 terrorist assault on Mumbai and may have been working on future operations, as the FBI alleges.

Indian police say they think Headley scouted Mumbai targets, including a cafe and two upscale hotels that drew fire in the coordinated attack, which left 165 people dead. He also allegedly posed as a Jew to visit Chabad House, the site of an Orthodox Jewish center also targeted that day.

The investigation of Headley and Rana captured telephone conversations and e-mails with Pakistani militants, according to court documents in Chicago. Among Headley's associates was Ilyas Kashmiri, a leader of Harkat-e-Jihad-e-Islami.

Attorneys for Headley and Rana declined to discuss recent developments or FBI reports that Headley is now cooperating with U.S. authorities. Lawyer Patrick W. Blegen has told reporters that Rana, a Canadian citizen born in Pakistan, is not guilty and looks forward to answering the charges in court.

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