A US federal court in Chicago on Thursday sentenced Pakistani-American LeT terrorist David Coleman Headley to 35 years in jail for his 'unquestionable' role in the massacre of 166 people in the 2008 Mumbai attacks.
Giving his order, US District Judge Harry D Leinenweber said, "he commits crime, cooperates and then gets rewarded for the cooperation. No matter what I do it is not going to deter terrorists. Unfortunately. Terrorists do not care for it. I do not have any faith in Mr Headley when he says that he is a changed person now.
"I do believe that it is my duty to protect the public from Mr Headley and ensure that he does not get into any further terrorist activities. Recommending 35 years is not a right sentence.
"I will accept the government motion 35 years and sentence of 35 years and supervised release for life".
A week back, Judge Leinenweber had sentenced 52-year-old Headley's school time friend, Tahawwur Rana, for 14 years of imprisonment followed by three years of supervised release for providing material support to LeT and planning terrorist attack against a Danish newspaper in Copenhagen.
Under a plea bargain, death sentence for Headley was already knocked down. But many were left surpised when the US prosecutors did not seek life sentence for Headley.
Headley was sentenced on 12 counts. Those included conspiracy to aid the Pakistani group Lashkar-e-Taiba, which mounted the attacks on the landmark Taj Mahal Hotel and other targets.
Both Headley and Rana were arrested in 2009. Headley was small-time narcotics dealer turned US' Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) informer who went rogue.
In their closing argument, US attorneys Daniel J Collins and Sarah E Streicker had sought between 30 and 35 years of imprisonment for Headley.
His attorneys Robert David Seeder and John Thomas had sought a lighter sentence arguing the amount of information he provided to the US government against terrorist organisations like LeT and several of its leaders.
Headley has confessed that he had undertaken numerous scouting missions for his handlers in Pakistan.
He had videographed a number of targets in India including the iconic Taj hotel in Mumbai which was attacked by 10 LeT terrorists.
According to security agencies, the detailed videos made by Headley was the foundation on which the Mumbai attacks was planned and carried out.
Headley had even changed his name from Daood Gilani in 2006 to easily move in and out of India without raising suspicision.
The US attorneys argued that while there is no question that Headley's criminal conduct was deplorable, his decision to cooperate, provided uniquely significant value to the US government's efforts to combat terrorism.
"We are seeking less than life time sentencing, because of the significant intelligence value information provided by Headley. Crime is deplorable, shocking and horrific.
"I am not going to find the words to describe the Mumbai terrorist attack the job is to balance the how serious the crime was and the information he provided immediately after his arrest.
"We have to recognize the significant value of the information. We believe that 30-35 years of imprisonment would be justified and balance and thus be downgraded from life sentence," Collins said.
The hearing before the court of US district judge Harry D Leinenweber in downtown Chicago amid an unprecedented security, was delayed by 30 minutes after several hundred people lined up before the courtroom ahead of proceedings. Sniffer dogs were deployed and every individual was thoroughly checked before they were allowed to enter the court room by security personnel.
No electronic device, cellular phone, i-pads and recording devices were allowed inside the court room – which was opened on a first-cum-first serve basis. A battery of national and international mediapersons who arrived in Chicago for the hearing in the closely followed case were among those trying to enter the court room. A large number of people had to be denied entry as the courtroom was full to its capacity.
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