Scout in Mumbai attacks was DEA informant while in terror camp, authorities say
Sunday, October 17, 2010; 12:31 AM
Federal officials acknowledged Saturday that David Coleman Headley, the U.S. businessman who confessed to being a terrorist scout in the 2008 Mumbai attacks, was working as a Drug Enforcement Administration informant while training with terrorists in Pakistan.
Federal officials, who spoke only on background because of the sensitivity of the Headley case, also said they suspect a link between Headley and the al-Qaeda figures whose activities have sparked recent terror threats against Europe.
The revelations came after a report Friday by ProPublica and The Washington Post that the FBI had been warned about Headley's terrorist ties three years before the Mumbai attacks. Headley was arrested 11 months after those attacks.
After he was arrested in a 2005 domestic dispute in New York City, his wife told federal investigators about his long involvement with the terrorist group Lashkar-i-Taiba and his extensive training in its Pakistani camps. She also told them he had bragged about being a paid U.S. informant while undergoing terrorist training.
Despite a federal inquiry into the tip, Headley spent the next four years doing terrorist reconnaissance around the world. Between 2006 and 2008, he did five spying missions in Mumbai scouting targets for the attack by Lashkar that killed 166 people, including six Americans.
On Saturday, the New York Times reported that another of Headley's wives - he apparently was married to three women at the same time - also had warned U.S. officials about his terrorism involvement. In December 2007, the Moroccan woman met with officials at the U.S. Embassy in Pakistan and told them about Headley's friendship with Lashkar members, his hatred of India and her trips with him to the Taj Mahal Hotel, a prime target of the Mumbai attacks, the Times reported.
On Saturday, federal officials said the women's tips lacked specificity.
"U.S. authorities took seriously what Headley's former wives said," a senior administration official said. "Their information was of a general nature and did not suggest any particular terrorist plot."
Similarly, a federal official described the 2005 tip from Headley's U.S. wife to the Joint Terrorism Task Force in New York City as "general in nature."
"The JTTF could not link the information to a specific threat, plot or terrorist group," the official said.
A different picture emerges from a law enforcement document describing the New York tip and from interviews with anti-terrorism officials and a person close to the case. Headley's U.S. wife described her husband's frequent trips to Pakistan, his training stints at a Lashkar camp near Muzaffarabad, and his recruiting and fundraising for Lashkar.
Although the claims of an angry spouse might be suspect, the wife's in-depth knowledge of Lashkar would have reinforced her credibility, because the Pakistani extremist group is not well known to the average American.