Page 5 of 5   <      

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.

In early November, Headley met with his Lashkar handler in Karachi, where militant bosses were making final preparations of the 10-man attack squad, documents say. And on Nov. 18, U.S. officials advised India about a suspicious vessel related to a potential maritime threat to Mumbai, the official said.

Four days later, the gunmen left Karachi by boat. On Nov. 26, they struck the Taj Mahal and Oberoi hotels, a Jewish center, a cafe and a train station. The gunmen singled out Americans, Britons and Jews. The three-day slaughter caught Indian security forces unprepared despite the warnings.

Afterward, Lashkar deployed Headley on a plot against a Danish newspaper that had published cartoons of the prophet Muhammad. In January 2009, he visited the newspaper to ask about advertising and shot reconnaissance video, documents say.

Lashkar soon put the plot on hold, so Headley turned to Ilyas Kashmiri, an al-Qaeda kingpin in Pakistan, documents say. Kashmiri offered militants in Europe to Headley for a plan to decapitate hostages at the newspaper and throw their heads out of windows, documents say.

When Headley contacted the militants that summer, British intelligence detected him, officials say. He was arrested by the FBI last October and is now in a federal prison in Chicago. Anti-terrorism officials say he has become a treasure trove of information about Lashkar and al-Qaeda, whose recent suspected Mumbai-style plots in Europe have been linked to Kashmiri. 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," the person close to the case said. "Everything he did was for the excitement."

ProPublica researchers Nicholas Kusnetz and Lisa Schwartz contributed to this report. ProPublica is an independent, nonprofit newsroom that produces investigative journalism in the public interest. ProPublica is supported entirely by philanthropy and provides the articles it produces, free of charge, both through its Web site and to leading news organizations.

<                5

© 2010 The Washington Post Company