Day 4: David Headley LeTs the cat out of the bag

Terrorist creates a stir by ‘confirming’ that Ishrat Jehan, who was allegedly killed in a fake encounter in 2004, was a Lashkar operative

In a startling revelation made by David Headley before the TADA court on day four via video-conferencing, the prime accused-turned-approver in the 26/11 attacks case said Ishrat Jehan was a part of Lashkar-e-Toiba’s (LeT) women wing.

A file photo of Ishrat Jehan and three other after the alleged fake encounter by the Detection of Crime Branch (DCB) of the Ahmedabad city police on June 15,  2004. Pic/PTIA file photo of Ishrat Jehan and three other after the alleged fake encounter by the Detection of Crime Branch (DCB) of the Ahmedabad city police on June 15,  2004. Pic/PTI

Jehan was killed, along with three others, in an alleged fake encounter by Gujarat Police on June 14, 2004. The police, however, maintained that she was an LeT operative and had entered Gujarat to assassinate then Chief Minister Narendra Modi.

Deposition begins
It all started with Headley telling the court that he knows Muzzammil Bhatt since 2002 or 2003. He said Muzzammil was the group head and had visited Azad Kashmir to fight against the Indian troops. Headley added there was an all-women branch of LeT, headed by Abu Aiman’s mother. However, when asked, “Can you name any suicide bomber in LeT?” Headley said, “No I cannot.”

Here, Special Public Prosecutor (SPP) Ujjwal Nikam questioned Headley about Lakhvi and whether he ever mentioned a botched operation in India, to which Headley replied “some shootout at some Naka in India.” He also said that Muzzammil wasn’t blamed for the failure and it was he who informed Headley about the operation. Headley said, “An LeT woman was killed in the shootout by police.”

Nikam then immediately mentioned three names: Noor Jahan Begum, Ishrat Jehan or Mumtaz, to which Headley replied, “I think the second one, Ishrat Jehan.”

At the end, after his entire deposition was read out, Headley said, “Ishrat was an Indian National and not Pakistani. She was an LeT operative.”

Funding by ISI and LeT
In his deposition, Headley also spoke about the money that was transferred into his account by ISI members. He said, before coming to India, Major Iqbal had given him $25,000. Even during Headley’s stay in Mumbai in 2008, Iqbal gave him Rs 2000 and Rs 1,500 on different occasions. He was even given counterfeit notes a couple of times. Headley also received money from his LeT contact Sajid Mir (40,000 Pakistani rupees). Former major Abdul Pasha also handed him R80,000 when he was in Mumbai.

Office in Mumbai
Headley told court that he had set up his office at AC Market in Tardeo, Immigrant Law Centre, Chicago, about which he had informed the court earlier. He paid a monthly rent of R13,500. Headley stated that Mahrukh Barucha had suggested he hire Meera Kriplani as his secretary, which he did. He told court that acting on Major Iqbal’s instructions, he shut down his office in January 2009 after the attacks. Headley revealed that RBI had denied him permission to set up an office.

Temple attack
Headley revealed that Muzzammil had planned to attack at a temple. When Nikam asked whether he knows the Akshardham and Somnath temples, Headley replied in positive. “Muzzammil said after the demolition of Babri Mosque, it was allowed for them to destroy Akshardham temple.”

Handler Abu Khafa
Speaking about Abu Khafa, Headley said he met him twice in 2003 during their training course. Khafa was the one in touch with the 10 men, who attacked Mumbai, over the phone. “Sajid Mir and Abu Khafa were talking on phone to the attackers when the attack was happening,” he said. He also said the control room was at undisclosed location and was destroyed just before the attack. Khafa’s nephew was one the 10 who attacked Mumbai. Headley said his death was ‘unfortunate’.

Bengaluru attack
One of many names whom the SPP tried to gather info about was Haji Ashraf. A Lahore-based businessman, Ashraf was in-charge of securing funds for the LeT. Headley told court that he had heard of Ashraf’s death at Akshardham temple. Another person the SPP asked about was Abdul Aziz, another LeT man. Headley said Aziz was involved in the terror attack in Bengaluru.

Praises for Headley
Headley identified the picture of Ilyas Kashmiri, a deceased al-Qaeda member and commander of 313 Brigade. When asked whether he was aware of Jund al-Fida or Army of Fidayeens, Headley said, “I think it is part of the Ilyas Kashmiri’s group. I spoke to Kashmiri about the 26/11 attacks and had explained it to him in detail. He was very happy about it and said shabaash.” When asked if he was aware how Kashmiri died, Headley smiled and said, “I have been in prison. Probably, you have better information than me.”

Landing sites
Commenting on the selection of landing sites, Headley said he was asked in March 2008 to visit Mumbai and find suitable locations. There was a meeting regarding this in Muzzafarabad, at Lakhvi’s residence of which Khafa, an ex-naval officer was part of. Headley said he visited Mumbai from Karachi on April 9, 2008, and selected safe landing sites. He then returned to Karachi on April 15, 2008. He revisited Mumbai on July 1, 2008 to recheck the landing sites and left for Karachi.

Explaining how these landing sites were shortlisted, Headley told court that he undertook short boat rides. He undertook four to five boat rides at each of the possible landing sites before finalising his list. He said Mir had instructed him to do so and was given a GPS device to save the locations. “It was Gateway of India, twice at Cuffe Parade (Bhadawar Park, the site from were the 10 men arrived in Mumbai) and Worli,” Headley said, adding, “I was looking for a location which could be safest to launch the attack.”

‘We both were happy’
He also informed the court about another LeT operative, Abu Alkama, who worked on Mumbai attacks and was second in command after Lakhvi. Headley said he met Alkama during a meet in Muridke on the outskirts of Lahore, which was attended by LeT chief Hafiz Saeed, Lakhvi and a few others.

“I learnt about his involvement in the attacks after I heard his voice on Mir’s laptop in a car”, Headley said. He added that at that time, Mir showed him videos of the Indian media coverage of the attacks and voice recording of the phone call of Khafa talking to terrorists in Mumbai when the attacks were underway.

When Nikam asked how did Mir react after hearing those recording, Headley said, “Mir was very happy about it.” Headley said ‘even I was happy’, when Nikam asked him about his reaction.

Ishrat Jehan case
Ishrat Jehan Raza, Pranesh Pillai (alias Javed Gulam Sheikh), Amjad Ali Rana and Zeeshan Johar were gunned down in an encounter by the officials from Detection of Crime Branch (DCB) of the Ahmedabad City olice on June 15, 2004.

Ishrat Jehan Raza
Ishrat Jehan Raza

Justifying their action, the cops said all four were LeT operatives and had come to Gujarat to assassinate the then chief minister Narendra Modi to avenge the communal riots of 2002. However, the Ahmedabad metropolitan court ruled that the encounter was fake. Moreover, Magistrate S P Tamang’s report claimed the Crime Branch had kidnapped Ishrat and others from Mumbai on June 12, 2004 and brought them to Ahmedabad and that there was no evidence that linked the deceased to the LeT. Also, there was no evidence to corroborate the claims that the quartet had come to Gujarat to assassinate Modi.

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