CHICAGO - Defense attorneys called into question star prosecution witness David Headley's credibility Wednesday in the trial of a Pakistan-born businessman charged with aiding the November 2008 Mumbai terror attacks.
Headley has testified that defendant Tahawwur Rana let him use Rana's immigration business in India as a cover while Headley scouted targets for the attacks, which killed more than 160 people, including six Americans. Headley pleaded guilty to his role in the attack and agreed to cooperate with federal investigators.
Headley's cross-examination detailed a history of drug dealing, broken homes, and prison records. By contrast, Rana's attorneys portrayed their client as an observant and law-abiding Muslim who never would have aided Headley's jihadist plans had he known of their true intent.
Headley said he worked for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency around the time he first became involved with Lashkar activities in 1999, but quit working for the agency in September 2002.
The self-confessed Mumbai plotter detailed different levels of his training program with Lashkar, starting with a basic religious course and going all the way up to the leadership stage. He said he received additional training from the ISI.
While recounting his experiences training with the Pakistani spy agency, Headley said an ISI official had looked at his notes from the Lashkar training and "expressed dissatisfaction." The ISI official felt the Lashkar training program was "very rudimentary," Headley said.
Defense Attorney Charles Swift challenged Headley's claim that his alleged ISI handler in the Mumbai attacks, identified only as Major Iqbal, really was from the Pakistani intelligence agency. Headley said he had been spotted as a potential recruit for ISI espionage activities by a Major Ali while he was incarcerated at an Army cantonment in Landi Kotal in Pakistan on drug trafficking charges. Major Ali subsequently introduced Headley to Major Iqbal.
His American passport and Western looks made him a "significant asset for the ISI," Headley told Swift.
Although he had not seen Major Iqbal in a military uniform, Headley said, he had seen him drive an Army jeep in Lahore.
Headley detailed his training in espionage techniques with the ISI. He learned ways to conduct reconnaissance operations in urban areas, to videotape potential targets without appearing suspicious, and to protect his communications. The ability to "manipulate people" was another important skill he picked up at the training.
The defense does not contest the allegation that Rana allowed Headley to use his business as a cover. They argued before the trial that his actions should enjoy diplomatic immunity because they were sanctioned by the Pakistani government.
But the defense argues that those facts do not prove he was trying to help facilitate a terrorist attack.
During his direct examination, Headley testified that Rana was motivated by patriotism in helping Headley pursue the Mumbai plot. After the attacks, Headley said both he and Rana were pleased, with Rana saying "They [India] deserved it."
But, through their questions, defense attorneys tried to show Rana had other motives. As a younger man, Rana went AWOL from the Pakistani army. That status made it impossible for him to return to the country.
Rana helped, the defense argued, because Headley promised to use Major Iqbal's contacts in the Pakistani Army to remove Rana's AWOL status.
Swift also made the case that Rana had a business interest in opening an office in Mumbai since a majority of his clients were Indians.
Lashkar fighters were Salafi, Swift said, whereas Rana was a Deobandi Muslim. For jihad to appeal to a Deobandi "a state ruler must declare war." But this was not the case with Lashkar.
Swift asked Headley if he "kept compartmentalized secrets." That question was in reference to a series of e-mails Headley exchanged with Rana and co-conspirators Saajid Mir and Major Iqbal discussing a plan to gain access to top leaders of a right-wing Hindu organization in Mumbai. Headley shared piecemeal information with his co-conspirators, so that no one except he knew the whole story.
"The only person who knew everything was you," Swift said. "You did well in espionage school."
"Thank you," Headley replied.
Earlier in the day, Headley testified he "liked" four targets for future attacks: Somnath (a Hindu temple in Gujarat); Denmark (the Danish newspaper, Jyllands Posten); Bollywood (the Indian film industry); and Shiva Sena (right wing Hindu political party).
Rana told him, "Even if you did those four targets, you're still not going to stop," Headley testified.
When asked by federal prosecutors if that statement was true, Headley replied, "Probably."
Headley testified Tuesday that Rana mentioned a fifth target, the prestigious National Defense College in Delhi. "If this attack were carried out, everybody who would be killed in the attacks would be brigadiers, or generals, or colonels," Headley said Rana told him.
Rana also said nine of the 10 Lashkar fighter killed in the Mumbai siege should be given Pakistan's highest award for bravery, Nishaan-e-Haider. He praised Saajid Mir, the mastermind of the Mumbai attacks, for his "tactical brilliance," comparing him to legendary Arab military strategist Kalid bin Walid.
Headley also testified that the Mumbai attackers had telephone contact with their handlers in Pakistan who were watching live coverage of the carnage on television. The handlers guided the attackers to change tactics by phone when they saw advancing commandos, he said. At one point, Lashkar operative Saajid Mir, even suggested to the attackers to "use mattresses as cover" and then fire at the commandos.
Videos of Headley's surveillance operations in Copenhagen were shown to the jury. Headley took a total of 13 videos that included one of the Copenhagen Royal Guard parade. Headley testified to a discussion he had with Saajid about throwing a grenade at the parade and seizing the weapons from the guards.
Headley said that he followed the guards to their barracks and asked the captain if the rifles they were carrying were "real." When the captain responded yes, Headley asked why that was necessary. "You never know," the captain replied.