Chicago-Mumbai Terror Trial Could Reveal More about Pakistani Terrorist Links


Headley's connection to the Lashkar terror spanned back to 2002 when he attended terrorist training camps in Pakistan. The indictment alleges that the initial planning for the Mumbai attacks spanned back to 2005 after discussions with Lashkar members. Headley changed his given name in 2006 from Daood Gilani to David Coleman Headley in order to conceal his Pakistani roots so he could travel more freely and not raise suspicion.

According to Headley's plea agreement following the Mumbai attacks, he was told to avoid contact with his handlers until further notice. In January 2009, Headley conducted surveillance for a possible attack against the Danish newspaper Jyllands Posten, which became a target by terrorists after its publication of cartoon depicting the prophet Muhammad in 2005. Headley also conducted work for his Lashkar handlers in March 2009 casing India's National Defense College in Delhi and several Jewish centers in different Indian cities.

During his visits to Denmark in early 2009 Headley used the cover of Rana's business to visit the newspaper's offices where he expressed interest to buy an advertisement for First World Immigration Services in the newspaper. The plot against the Danish newspaper was referred to as the "Mickey Mouse Project" in coded communications between Headley and his contact in Pakistan.

Headley was arrested in Chicago as he was preparing to travel to Pakistan in October 2009 he is going to be both the key witness for the prosecution and for Rana's defense. Although he appeared in court for his initial appearance and guilty plea hearing details of Headley's terrorist planning and travels have largely been confined to secret grand jury testimony. U.S. officials last year also allowed Headley to be interviewed by Indian security and law enforcement officials.

Rana's defense is expected to focus on Headley and his integrity as a witness. They are likely to argue that the two men were only long time friends and question if Rana knew about Headley's Lashkar contacts. The defense is also expected to raise Headley's role as a U.S. government informant who reported to the DEA about heroin trafficking and note that Headley's ex-wife had reported concerns about his possible support for extremists to the FBI in 2005.

The trial is also expected to reveal more information about Ilyas Kashmiri, a rising figure in Al Qaeda who some U.S. counterterrorist analysts say over time could play an influential role in Al Qaeda's hierarchy and leadership. Kashmiri was in contact with Headley for the Mumbai planning operation. Kashmiri served in Pakistan's military and intelligence service and later became a key planner in the Harkat ul- Jihad Islami terror group, which has now merged with factions of Lashkar and the Pakistani Taliban towards Al Qaeda. Kashmiri is an almost mythic figure for some terrorists having been reportedly killed in a drone strike in 2009 only to re-emerge later unscathed in a media interview. According to the initial criminal complaint filed against Headley, when he heard about Kashmiri being killed, he "expressed dismay" and told an associate, "Our company has gone into bankruptcy then…the projects and so forth will go into suspension."

The jury of eight women and four men will be hearing extensive testimony in a trial that is expected to last 4 to 5 weeks. The judge has ordered that the jury remain anonymous given the security concerns and nature of a high profile terrorism trial.

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