May 24, 2011 -- Chicago resident David Headley testified today that he was pleased with the results of the November 2008 Mumbai attacks that killed 164 people, including six Americans.
Headley is the government's star witness at the trial of Tahawwur Rana who is charged with providing material support to Lashkar-e-Tayyiba, the terrorist group behind the attacks. Rana allegedly supported Headley's operational planning for the attacks by letting him use his immigration business as a front for Headley's time in Mumbai.
Headley, who himself faces a lifetime prison term, pleaded guilty last year to conducting reconnaissance for the Mumbai attacks and planning attacks in Denmark.
Today in court, he described his last several months in Mumbai, and the final orders he received from his handler from Pakistan's intelligence agency, a man known only as Major Iqbal -- which he said provided help to the terrorists.
Headley said that in the final months before the attacks he was asked to conduct surveillance and mark on his GPS the location of the Chabad house, an Orthodox Jewish outreach center in Mumbai. Headley said that Major Iqbal was interested in attacking the Chabad House since Iqbal believed it was allegedly a front for the Mossad, Israel's intelligence service.
During the attacks, Americans Gabriel Noah Holtzberg and his pregnant wife Rivka were killed by the Lashkar terrorists.
In his second day of testimony, Headley described how he received instructions to shoot surveillance films for the attackers to help them plan their routes. Headley also testified that he purchased traditional colorful bracelets worn by young boys and men in Mumbai so that the attackers would blend in.
Headley said that the Chabad house was difficult to locate since it was at the end of a narrow alley where his GPS could not receive a signal.
Major Iqbal was apparently upset that the Mumbai airport was not being considered as a possible target by the attackers, according to Headley's testimony. Headley also said that Iqbal wanted Headley to scout the Indian Naval Air Station in Mumbai as well.
"He was really keen on that" Headley testified.
In September 2008, Headley said that the planners for the attacks decided they would use what Headley called a "stronghold option" to barricade themselves in the hotels and fight to the death instead of trying to escape from Mumbai.
Headley testified about Abu Qahafa, one of the planners of the attack: "Abu Qahafa said if they knew they would leave, they would not fight as well."
It was during this time that it was decided the terrorist gunmen would use Indian cell phones to communicate with each other and their handlers.
Headley said he went to Pakistan to wait for word of the attacks. It was during this time that he said Lashkar members began to tell him about an attack on the Danish newspaper Jyllands Posten, retribution for a cartoon the paper printed, mocking the prophet Muhammad.
Headley said that at a November 9, 2008 meeting with Lashkar members he learned a first attempt to attack Mumbai failed when the boat carrying the terrorists ran aground and sank.
Asked by prosecutor Daniel Collins how he learned about the November 26, 2008 attacks in Mumbai, Headley said he received a text message telling him to turn on the TV.
Asked what he thought about the news coverage, Headley said in his monotone voice, "I was pleased."
In discussion with one of the planners of the attacks, Headley said they marveled at the initial Indian press reports that claimed that as many as 50 to 100 terrorists were attacking Mumbai. There were, in fact, ten gunman.
Headley returned to the United States days on December 8, 2008. Headley testified that when he met with Rana in Chicago they discussed the attacks.
"I said we were even with the Indians," he testified that he told Rana. "Personally I was even with the Indians."
Headley testified that he and Rana also discussed the plan to attack the Danish newspaper and that Headley said he would conduct the scouting for the attacks.
Headley said Rana told him, "Discussion on this matter had been long overdue."
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 in buying an advertisement for the Immigrant Law Center. The plot against the Danish newspaper was referred to as the "Mickey Mouse Project" in coded communications between Headley and his contacts in Pakistan.
Traveling to Denmark in early 2009, Headley noticed the paper had a secure lobby that he said would make entry into the offices more difficult. Headley also drove to Aarhus, Denmark, and scouted the Jyllands Posten offices in the city, but said the building was like a maze and would not be ideal for an attack.
Prosecutors showed the jury one email that Headley sent Rana, where he wrote, "I checked out business opportunities here ... they seem quite promising."
Assistant U.S. Attorney Daniel Collins asked Headley what he was indicating in the message. Headley told the jury, "It was doable ... to attack the newspaper."
Although Headley had business cards from Rana's businesses, Headley testified that he did no real work for Rana or his immigration business.
The jury also saw emails titled "Copenhagen Important," where Headley warned Rana that the advertising staff from the paper might contact Rana or Rana's offices in New York or Toronto. "Please tell ALL our offices if they receive a call about me, to please confirm my job there," Headley wrote to Rana.
Asked by the prosecutors why this was important Headley said he needed this for his cover story saying of the employees in those offices, "They never heard of me."
Headley then described his travels to Pakistan in February 2009 for additional meetings with his handlers, who reviewed his newspaper casing videos. Headley described how his associate, retired Pakistani military officer Abdur Rehman Hashim Syed, a.k.a. "Pasha," introduced him to al Qaeda commander Ilyas Kashmiri when Lashkar began to back away from undertaking the newspaper attack.
Kashmiri "was very influential in al Qaeda, he spent a lot of time in India. ... He had worked for the ISI," Headley said.
Kashmiri allegedly told Headley the newspaper attacks were a high priority.
"He said it was important the attack be carried out as soon as possible," Headley said. "He said the cartoons were very disgraceful."
Headley testified that Kashmiri wanted to drive a truck full of explosives into the newspaper offices, but Headley told him vehicle barriers would make that impossible. Kashmiri said he had associates and operatives in England that could carry out the attack, Headley said.
Shortly after meeting with Kashmiri, Headley also returned to India and surveyed the Indian National Defense College in New Delhi as well as surveying Jewish sites and Chabad houses in three Indian cities, he said.
Headley said he then returned to Pakistan where pressure was building on Lashkar members. He met with his Lashkar hander, Sajid Mir, who was now revealed to be the infamous voice directing the Mumbai attackers to kill hostages, even women, at the Chabad House.
In March 2009, Headley, who was living in Lahore, received a visit from Major Iqbal. "He told me to move…to remove Lashkar material from my house."
Headley testified that it was the last time he saw the mysterious ISI major.
Headley said he was then contacted by a different ISI official that he identified as Maj. Sameer Ali. Headley said that before he left for the United States he again visited Kashmiri in May 2009 in Waziristan and they discussed the operatives in England that would carry out the attack and the need to make martyrdom videos for them.
Kashmiri suggested to Headley that in order to spur the Danish response forces to act quickly they should behead the victims. Headley told the jury, "He said they should throw the heads of the hostages out the window ... shoot them first, then behead them so there wouldn't be a struggle."
He said Kashmiri let him communicate this to the attackers, and that Kashmiri told Headley to give the attackers a "pep talk." Headley testified that he met with the planned attackers, but it was unclear when or where the meeting took place.
After returning to the United States, he said, he talked to Rana about the planned attack on the newspaper.
"I related all that had been discussed [with Kashmiri]," Headley said. "He [Rana] said good. He agreed with it. ... He thought it would be a huge event in the media."
Although the attack never took place and Healdey was arrested in late 2009, he was clearly anxious to see the attack occur.
Headley said he told Rana he was having difficulty getting in touch with the attackers who were in England. Headley said he grew frustrated as the summer moved into July, learning that some of his Lashkar contacts, including Pasha, had been arrested in Pakistan by authorities.
Headley said he asked his new ISI contact about Pasha. In one email message the ISI man responded, "Your friend that u asked about has reached home yesterday. How are u and what r the plans????"
Healdey's questioning by the prosecutors is expected to conclude Wednesday afternoon. Then he will face cross-examination by Rana's defense team.