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Before '08 Mumbai attacks, U.S. was warned key figure in plot had terror ties

After a wave of coordinated terrorist attacks turned parts of Mumbai's financial district into a combat zone, officials in New Delhi, India, and Islamabad, Pakistan, grapple with the political and diplomatic fallout of India's deadliest terror attack in 15 years.

Not long after the arrest, task force investigators met three times with his wife. In addition to a detailed account of his activity with Lashkar, 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, according to the person close to the case. It is not known if the investigators ever questioned Headley about his wife's revelations.

Veteran anti-terrorism officials described various ways in which the New York task force might have handled the tip. Investigators could have decided it simply wasn't worth pursuing, perhaps because Lashkar was seen primarily as a threat to India at that time.

Others think investigators learned Gilani was still an informant for the U.S. government so they deferred to the existing operation. But federal officials speaking on background say that to their knowledge Gilani was no longer an informant at that point.

Another scenario: Investigators may have opened a case and put Headley under surveillance. If he were an informant, his U.S. handlers could also have tracked his travels and intercepted his communications if they suspected wrongdoing, then opened an investigation, officials 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.

A new identity

To conceal his Pakistani Muslim background, he went to Philadelphia and legally changed his name to David Coleman Headley in February 2006. Then the ex-convict with the new name traveled to Pakistan, India, Dubai, Europe and elsewhere, documents show.

In June 2006, a friend who owned a U.S. immigration consulting firm helped Headley open a Mumbai office of the firm as a cover, court documents say. During the next two years, Headley scouted and videotaped targets, the documents say. He joined an upscale gym, befriended a Bollywood actor and stayed with a Moroccan girlfriend at the Taj Mahal hotel, a prime target of the plot, according to documents and officials.

Headley reported to his handlers, including a suspected Pakistani Army major, at debriefings in Pakistan, according to court documents and officials.

As the plot took shape in 2008, U.S. anti-terrorism agencies warned Indian counterparts at least three times about a suspected Lashkar plan to attack Mumbai, according to Indian and U.S. 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.

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 first U.S. warning to India came in early 2008 and described general intelligence about Lashkar wanting to strike Mumbai, according to an anti-terrorism official with knowledge of the warnings. After a scouting trip to Mumbai in April 2008, Headley went to Chicago in May and told his accomplice about an evolving plan for seaborne gunmen to land in front of the Taj Mahal hotel, which he had scouted extensively, court documents show.

Also in May, U.S. officials told their Indian counterparts that Lashkar's potential targets included the Taj Mahal hotel and nearby sites frequented by foreigners and Americans, according to the anti-terrorism official. In September, a U.S. warning caused Indian anti-terrorism officials to meet with officials at the hotel, which beefed up security, according to the official.

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