David Headley's heist plan and how LeT dumped him

Headley had a plan to loot a vault inside the Northcote Nursing Home compound outside Taj even as he was surveying the hotel for LeT, a new book on 26/11 by two cops reveals. Excerpts

Headley’s eighth visit to India was from 1st to 31st July the same year. He finalised the surveillance of The Taj hotel, standing outside the Northcote nursing home, and videotaped the hotel entrance just across the road from there. He viewed the nursing home as a prospective target and noticed that it didn’t seem to have many patients visiting it. He did, however, observe that there were some guards, and an alert and capable looking security officer in a dark safari suit. The guards appeared to be on post at a door, which was obviously fortified, and whenever it opened David could see another guard at a small table, and a metal grill beyond.

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Headley (below) finalised the surveillance of The Taj hotel, standing outside the Northcote nursing home, and videotaped the hotel entrance just across the road from there. Pic/Shadab Khan
Headley (below) finalised the surveillance of The Taj hotel, standing outside the Northcote nursing home, and videotaped the hotel entrance just across the road from there. Pic/Shadab Khan

The obvious calibre of the guards, and the nature of the security arrangements—being at odds for a nursing home—puzzled him, so he struck up a friendship with one of the attendants and made a few discreet enquiries.

He found out that a telecommunications company, erecting and leasing out cellular phone towers, had invested in the nursing home and built a huge vault-like structure on the ground floor.

Apparently this vault was used, from time to time, to store valuable paintings, antiques, jewellery, and bullion. The person in charge of the entire set-up was one Nitin Shinde, an ex-army serviceman.

David tried to engage him in conversation, but to his surprise, he was politely rebuffed. Excited by his discovery he decided to discuss the possibility of a robbery with Sajid and Zaki.

Read Story: David Headley deposes in court : 'Scientists conference at Taj, Siddhivinayak were on LeT's hitlist'

Returning to Pakistan in August, he met Pasha in his house and they viewed the Mumbai videos. He then went to Muzzafarabad to meet Sajid, who personally came to receive him.

David then shared his discovery of the Northcote nursing home, and the valuables in the basement vault, which he had since discovered were estimated at upwards of Rs 500 crore. Some of the paintings were of Raja Ravi Verma and MF Husain, and included Mughal miniatures from the Ottoman era. He had also discovered that the set-up was run by a businessman named Manoj Thirodkar of a company called Global Telecom. Sajid was clearly excited at the news, but later opined that to extend the incursion to the other side of the road would dilute the defences. Besides this, the very quantum of valuables was an insurmountable challenge. Even so, Sajid concluded that it was a ‘maybe’ for the future.

‘What about the jewellery shop at the Taj, do you think we can loot it?’ Sajid asked.

As the 26/11 attacks were drawing to a close, the LeT, which has come to know of Headley’s double role, decides what to do with the American.

In Karachi, Lakhvi sighed as he wiped his forehead with a towel. The fatigue was beginning to show in his drawn features. He looked across at the table at Sajid who had indicated that he wished to have a private word with him, thus the two had retired to an office some distance away from the Control Room.

‘The Major has no doubts then?’ Zaki (Lakhvi) asked.

Sajid shook his head, ‘None whatsoever. He has had his suspicion for some time. David has been batting on both sides of the wicket I’m afraid.’

Zaki sighed again. For some months now they’d had a hunch that David had been feeding information to the Feds. It was the ISI Major who had received a tip-off from one of his assets in the US. A routine trolling, through the regularly generated homeland security updates, revealed that over a longish period there had been specific inputs with regard to the Lashkar activities in the Indo-Pak theatre. For a professional like the Major, it was obvious that the source of the leaked intel could only be someone on the inside — the information was far too precise and localized. Once that was established, he had gone to work in his painstakingly methodical manner, and the needle had pointed unerringly at David Headley.

The problem was… what to do with it? Both knew that arranging an ‘accident’ for David would create more problems than it would solve. Word would eventually go around, and their credibility would take a beating and the Yanks would deduce that the LeT knew about their source. No, Zaki decided, David Headley was a grenade best tossed into the collective laps of the other side. As his old college professor would have said – there are more than a couple of ways to skin a cat.

‘So you say David is up to something with the Kashmiri group?’ Zaki asked Sajid. He had never liked David’s friendship with Pasha, but had held his peace on the matter, in deference to Hafiz Saeed’s wishes.
‘Yes, that is something that I confirmed personally. That bunch is priming a project in Denmark. And the idea is to use David more or less the same way as we did. Our boy apparently wants to go international,’ Sajid grinned.

Zaki smiled, it always happened the same way, success emboldened one for more daring adventures. After all, he knew, war had the young and the brave dying while the wily old ones lived. Well, for our friend David the road would end sooner than later, Zaki thought grimly. There was always the other scout that only he knew about.

‘We can’t let the Americans let on that we know about Headley playing both ends to the middle,’ Sajid pondered aloud. ‘Besides, the Major made an odd comment. He said he would leave it to you to hit three birds with one stone.’ He scratched his head. ‘I really didn’t get what he meant by that.’

Zaki grinned again, Brigadier Riyaz had briefed him on the Headley scenario and he knew exactly what Major Iqbal had meant. It was time to educate Sajid. ‘Well, my Sajid Bhai, once this Mumbai is concluded David is the only person outside the group who can connect us to it directly. The boys in Mumbai won’t survive. This Kasab whom they have arrested can’t tell them much, no matter how intensively they interrogate him, and he has served his purpose anyway. No, my friend, David is the only one who can embarrass the top echelon. On the other hand, I am sure the Americans hope he will deliver more goodies. It’s my bet David hasn’t been completely honest with them either. So when they realize that their informant was responsible for…’ Zaki’s voice tapered off.

Sajid nodded in understanding. He now knew what the Major meant by killing three birds with one stone. They would let the Ilyas Kashmiri (leader of JuJI, and closely linked with LeT), brigade mount an offensive and then cut David Headley loose at the appropriate moment. ‘But that... that’s brilliant,’ he stammered excitedly, ‘we scuttle the competition in Afghanistan sector, toss the Headley potato into the laps of the Americans, and safeguard ourselves — all at the same time.’

‘Yes,’ Zaki said, ‘so let these kittens play their little games, and we will deal with them in due course.’

Published from The Scout by Shirish Thorat and Sachin Waze, [Rs 399] with permission from Bloomsbury India

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