Day 5: David Headley deposition - After 26/11, al-Qaeda offered Headley a job
David Headley said he took up al-Qaeda commander Illyas Kashmiri’s offer and kept his recruitment by the new terror group hidden from his Lashkar-e-Taiba colleagues
Deposing before the Special TADA Court Judge G A Sanap on day five, David Coleman Headley told the court that a few months after the 26/11 attacks in 2008, he joined al-Qaeda.
Headley informed the court that he visited Delhi on March 7, 2009. He said the visit was undertaken at the behest of Illyas Kashmiri, commander of al-Qaeda’s 313 Brigade, who had made him an offer to join al-Qaeda. Kashmiri had asked him to conduct reconnaissance at a few places for future attacks. The places suggested were the National Defence College of Delhi (NDC) and Chabad Houses in Pushkar, New Delhi, Pune and Goa. Headley told the court that Kashmiri had paid for his airfare and other expenses during his India visit.
Special Public Prosecutor Ujjwal Nikam addresses David Headley, who is accompanied by his lawyer John, a person identified as Bob and US attorney Sarah, while Special TADA Court Judge G A Sanap looks on. Illustration/Uday Mohite
Headley claimed he kept the news of him joining al-Qaeda secret, as LeT feared he might get apprehended because the Indian media had already covered the news of his involvement in the 26/11 attacks. He added that following Kashmiri’s instructions, he saved the list of spots suggested to him by Major (retired) Abdul Pasha via e-mail. Headley claimed he was aware that the NDC was a college for senior military officers and a primary target, adding that even the LeT had had it on its hitlist for years. Headley said he recced the NDC. "al-Qaeda wanted to attack the college because of its importance, as it was a base of senior Indian army officers. Pasha said that had it been successful (attack on NDC), the number of brigadiers killed would had outnumbered the ones killed at the Indian border."
Targeting Shiv Sena
Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) had considered attacking either Shiv Sena Bhavan or Sena supremo, late Bal Thackeray. Headley said this option was considered to send out a strong message.
Headley answered in affirmative when Special Public Prosecutor (SSP) Ujjwal Nikam asked him whether he knows Rajaram Rege and had ever met him inside Sena Bhavan. Headley said he had met Rege, Uddhav’s PRO. Headley said he visited Sena Bhavan twice and shot videos of the building from inside and outside. He then handed over the videos to his LeT contact Sajid Mir.
"I was interested in accessing that building, and tried to forge a bond with Rege. I was following Mir’s instructions. After giving him the videos of Sena Bhavan, Mir said he could make an attempt to attack the Sena supremo or his party headquarters," Headley said.
'Avenge past attacks'
Elaborating the reason for selecting Badhwar Park, Cuffe Parade, as the final landing site, Headley said the shanties provided attackers with adequate cover upon landing. He added it was Abu Khafa who mapped the route after gauging the distance between the landing site and the coast. Headley said this was done using locations stored on the GPS device used by him during his Mumbai visits prior to the attacks.
When Headley was asked whether the final selection of targets upset anyone, he replied, "While finalising the list, Major Iqbal (from ISI) disapproved of a few sites. He was upset because Mumbai airport wasn’t shortlisted."
He added that multiple meetings were held to finalise the targets and were attended by Mir, Khafa, Pasha and Lakhvi. Headley said Lakhvi kept reiterating the importance of the mission, stating it was an opportunity to avenge past attacks on Pakistan by India. He said Lakhvi wished him ‘good luck’.
Using Hindu identity
Elaborating on the plot to target Siddhivinayak temple, Headley said after recording a few videos of the premises, he purchased red-and-yellow-coloured threads for the 10 attackers to conceal their identities. Headley said he did it on his own ‘so that it could help the mission’. He handed over those threads to Mir, who thought ‘it was a great idea’, following Headley’s explanation.
"Hindus wear such threads. It is a sign of their religious identity," he said, adding that Mir told him that the 10 men were wearing those threads at the time of attack.
Headley said Lakhvi thought the Gateway of India made the prefect landing site due to its proximity to the Taj hotel. But he told Lakhvi that it was a bad idea because the attackers would have to pass the southern naval station and risk detection. Headley said Lakhvi found merit in his explanation and dropped the idea.
Headley said he had recced the Naval Air Station as a potential target, as asked by Iqbal. He, however, discouraged the idea of attacking Siddhivinayak and the Naval Air Station, as they were ‘heavily guarded.’ He suggested that ‘all the 10 attackers would have to concentrate only on these two places’.
BARC on the list
Headley said Iqbal had asked him to recruit a BARC employee, whom they could use in the future. He also recorded videos of BARC and gave them to Mir and Iqbal.
Stronghold over Ingress
Headley said Mir and Khafa told him that they had decided to opt for the ‘Stronghold’ option over ‘Ingress’. Explaining these options, Headley said, "Stronghold meant the attackers would stay put and fight law enforcement agencies, while Ingress would give attackers the option of escaping to India-occupied Kashmir and continue their fight from there."
Headley said Mir told him that it was Lakhvi’s decision to opt for the Stronghold option. "Khafa told me that if they (attackers) were given the Ingress option, then there was a possibility that they might leave the fight midway," he told the court.
Friends in Mumbai
Vilas Warke, in-charge of Mumbai-based Moksh gym, was Headley’s friend. Headley took membership in that gym as it was near his place. It was through Vilas, at a bodybuilding competition, that Headley met Rahul Bhatt, son of filmmaker Mahesh Bhatt.
Control room in Pak
Headley told the court he was in Lahore during the 26/11 attacks and the only handlers he met were Mir, Khafa and Abu Alkama. There, he was informed by Mir that the attackers were divided in two groups of five each. He added Mir informed him that the attackers were in contact with the control room via Indian numbers.
Headley said Mir, along with other LeT members, expressed grief upon learning of Ajmal Qasab’s capture. Identifying Qasab’s photo, Headley said his full name is Ajmal Qasab Rehmat Ullah Alaih, meaning ‘god bless him’.
A few e-mails were exchanged between Headley and his wife Sajia during the 26/11 attacks. One of the coded e-mails, which referred him as an undergrad, read: "Congratulation for your graduation. The ceremony was great." On the concluding day of the attack, November 28, 2008, Sajia sent another e-mail: "Yaar, you did great." In his reply, Headley wrote: "Thank you jaan. I studied hard to get good grades."
Former member of Shiv Sena, Rajaram Rege, whose name was mentioned by David Headley while testifying in the court yesterday, said he had met the Pakistani-American terrorist outside the Sena Bhavan just for two minutes and flatly declined his request to gain access into the building.
"Headley had met me outside the Sena Bhavan with one Vilas Warke. He wanted me to show him the building from inside but I had flatly declined his request.
My meeting with him had only lasted two minutes," Rege said.