U.S. citizen charged with conspiring to aid terrorists in 2008 Mumbai attack

By Carrie Johnson and Spencer S. Hsu
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Federal prosecutors charged a Chicago resident Monday with serving as an advance man for Islamist terrorists who carried out the deadly 2008 Mumbai bombing, underscoring what they said is the potential for international terrorists to gain a foothold on American soil.

David C. Headley, 49, a U.S. citizen, is accused of conspiring to help the 10 men who mounted an armed siege of India's financial district over three days in November last year. Using firearms, grenades and improvised explosive devices, the attackers overtook luxury hotels, a Jewish cultural center and a train station, killing nearly 170 people, including six Americans.

Headley also is accused of aiding and abetting murder and of helping Lashkar-i-Taiba, a Pakistani militant group. Prosecutors said Headley, who has been held since early October on unrelated terrorism charges, is helping them with the investigation, which U.S. Attorney Patrick J. Fitzgerald called "active and ongoing."

Born Daood Gilani to a father who worked at the Pakistani Embassy in Washington and a mother from Philadelphia's tony Main Line suburbs, Headley changed his name in 2006 so he could travel freely throughout India, prosecutors say. He allegedly made five trips there between 2006 and 2008, videotaping such targets as the Taj Mahal and Oberoi hotels and reporting back to handlers in Pakistan after the visits.

Headley also traveled by boat through the Mumbai harbor, the same path traced by the armed assailants who took the city by siege, according to court filings on Monday. He allegedly conducted other surveillance missions as well, including a visit to the National Defense College in New Delhi, which was not attacked.

John Theis, an attorney for Headley, said he was reviewing evidence in the case and declined to comment on his client's cooperation with authorities.

Justice Department lawyers and FBI agents were in India and Pakistan on Monday briefing counterparts there about the case, according to government sources who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the investigation is continuing. FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III said the case demonstrates the importance of fostering relationships with international counterparts.

"This case serves as a reminder that the terrorist threat is global in nature and requires constant vigilance at home and abroad," said David S. Kris, assistant attorney general for national security.

The Mumbai bombing, most of which was captured on tape and broadcast live for days, unsettled relations between India and its neighbor Pakistan.

Prosecutors also unsealed criminal charges Monday against retired Pakistani Maj. Abdur Rehman Hashim Syed for allegedly conspiring with Headley and others to attack a Danish newspaper that published cartoons depicting the prophet Muhammad in a way that offended many Muslims. Rehman served as the point man in conversations with Headley and others at Lashkar-i-Taiba, helping to plan for a possible attack on the newspaper and two employees, the court papers say.

Headley's luggage, searched in October when he was taken into custody, included a Pakistani phone number that he had allegedly used to reach Rehman. The retired military officer, who also uses the name "Pasha," remains in Pakistan, law enforcement officials said.

A third man, Tahawwur Hussain Rana, a Canadian citizen, was arrested in October on federal charges filed in Chicago relating to the newspaper plot. His attorney, Patrick Blegen, has asserted Rana's innocence and said he is fighting the charges. Rana operates First World Immigration Services, a Chicago business that authorities allege was used as a cover for Headley as he traveled to Europe and India.

Also allegedly enmeshed in the Danish plot is Ilyas Kashmiri, a shadowy and influential figure based in western Pakistan. U.S. prosecutors say he engages in regular communication with senior al-Qaeda leaders.

A U.S. counterterrorism official said the case is significant because of the apparent "slopover" it showed among actors with al-Qaeda; two allied Pakistan-based terrorist organizations, Lashkar-i-Taiba and Harkat-e-Jihad-e-Islami; and the Taliban in Pakistan.

Authorities in Pakistan have taken several actions recently, and last week they were in the midst of an operation that would assist in the Headley investigation, the U.S. official said.

© 2009 The Washington Post Company