A weekend bombing of a crowded cafe in the Indian city of Pune has revived questions about Chicago resident David Coleman Headley's alleged reconnaissance trips to India to scout potential targets for terrorist attacks for the Pakistan-based terror group, Lashkar-e-Taiba.
The attack Saturday at the German Bakery killed nine people, including two foreigners, and wounded at least 60 others. A bomb left in a backpack under a table exploded when one of the bakery's customers tried to open the backpack. The bakery is located in the Koregaon Park section of the city popular with foreign tourists and includes the Osho International Meditation Resort and the Jewish Chabad center.
Headley reportedly visited Pune and conducted surveillance at the Chabad center as a potential target site for attacks on one of his surveillance missions to the city in July 2008 and March 2009. He allegedly stayed in the neighborhood where the bombing occurred and also visited the Osho resort.
He was charged in December with conspiracy to bomb public places in India, to murder Americans and others in India, and to provide material support to the Pakistan-based Lashkar terror group. Court documents allege that Headley conducted extensive surveillance of sites targeted in the Mumbai attacks.
An FBI affidavit details a July 2009 e-mail to Headley from a Lashkar member that points to Pune as a target city for a potential terrorist attack. In the e-mail the Lashkar handler writes:
"There are investment plans with me, not exactly at Rahul's city but near that. Rest we can decide when we meet according to your ease."
Indian investigators have established that Rahul is a reference to Rahul Bhatt, an Indian actor and son of a prominent Bollywood film producer, who had been befriended by Headley during his many scouting missions to Mumbai. The "investment plans" included a plot to target Pune, a city 58 miles from Mumbai, in addition to the National Defense College in New Delhi.
Investigators suspect the Indian Mujahideen (IM), an indigenous terrorist outfit that has ties to the Lashkar-e-Taiba, was behind the bombing. The attack is also believed to have been set off by the IM as part of a larger "Karachi Project"—a plot by Lashkar and members of Pakistan's rogue intelligence agency, the ISI, to train fugitive Indian jihadis to wage terrorist attacks against India.
According to a news source, Headley told FBI interrogators about the project. Several renegade IM leaders, including Riaz and Iqbal Bhatkal, Mufti Sufiyan, and Rasool Parti have been granted sanctuary in Karachi by Lashkar, the Times of India reported. The IM has a noted presence in Pune a several IM leaders from the city, including technology graduates and a medical doctor, are in custody awaiting trial.
The Asia Times Online received a message from Ilyas Kashmiri, leader of al Qaeda's notorious 313 Brigade. The message justifies the bombing as retaliation to Indian atrocities in Kashmir, the massacre of Muslims in Gujarat, and the demolition of a Muslim mosque by Hindu extremists in 1992. Kashmiri does not claim responsibility for the attack but acknowledges the Brigade's involvement in the plot.
In January, Kashmiri was added as a defendant along with two others in a superseding indictment against Headley for his role in the 2008 Mumbai attacks.