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11 February 2016,

David Headley’s deposition

Sameer Patil, Fellow, National Security, Ethnic Conflict and Terrorism, Gateway House, comments on the implications of David Headley's deposition.

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The deposition of David Headley, the LeT operative convicted in the United States for his involvement in the 26/11 attacks on Mumbai, began on 9 February 2016, through video conferencing, before a Mumbai special court. The court has granted him pardon in exchange for him becoming an approver, and revealing the sequence of events and planning behind the attacks.Sameer Patil, Fellow, National Security, Ethnic Conflict and Terrorism, Gateway House, comments on the implications of Headley’s deposition.
Ashna Contractor (AC): Sameer, what were some of the key things that David Headley revealed in his deposition?Sameer Patil (SP): Headley has spoken about a number of things including his involvement in the Lashkar and planning for the Mumbai attacks. The first thing that he has spoken about is how he joined the Lashkar-e-Taiba in 2002, when he got inspired by the speeches of the Lashkar Amir, Hafiz Saeed. Then he has spoken about his contacts with the Pakistani army, particularly Sajid Mir and Major Iqbal, who gave him constant and regular instructions about his activities, and also for planning attacks in India. They also instructed him to change his identity from Daood Gilani (that was his original name) to David Headley, so that he could easily enter India.Now for the Mumbai attacks, again Headley has spoken about a number of things, including the fact that he made multiple trips into Mumbai before the attacks, and one trip after the Mumbai attacks. He extensively did recces of a number of targets in Mumbai, some of which eventually were not targeted, but they were on the hitlist of Lashkar – some of the temples, the police stations as well as some of the key military installations in the city. He also spoke about the fact that the LeT had made two attempts before actually targeting Mumbai on 26/11.

Then he mentioned his training period in the Lashkar-e-Taiba – how he wanted to fight in the Kashmir valley, and how he was discouraged from doing so because he was not physically fit. He also spoke about his time at the Lashkar-e-Taiba training facility in Muzaffarabad in Pakistan-occupied-Kashmir. Overall with regard to other activities of the Lashkar-e-Taiba, today he has revealed that Ishrat Jahan, who was suspected to be an LeT member, was in fact the LeT suicide bomber. So in that way he has revealed a number of things about the Lashkar-e-Taiba.

Now many of these things are not new for the Indian security agencies, because the interrogation by the Indian security agencies of Headley, when he was caught in 2009, and the interrogation that was carried out with the American security agencies, had given us a very broad picture about Headley’s time both within the Lashkar and his role in the 26/11 attacks.

For the members of the general public who are following this, it’s important to remember and know the level of detail which goes into planning an attack done by groups such as the LeT, and that it is not just a random activity. The preparations began four years earlier. The fact is that in terms of the selection of targets, the focus was on the Taj Hotel because it used to regularly host Indian military officials as well as scientists. The details which go into the attack – like Lashkar made a replica of the Taj for the actual attack. And the use of technology – the use of GPS and satellite phones, far before it became commonly used. And finally, the almost symbiotic relationship between the Pakistani army and the Lashkar, where Headley worked for both organisations but Headley also used the Lashkar resources for doing some of the work for the Pakistani ISI, including the fact that he looked at the military targets in India and also tried to recruit some of the people for the Pakistani army. So these are the things that one should really pay attention to.

AC: So as you mentioned, some of these revelations are fairly significant. What do you think that means for the India-Pakistan relationship now?

SP: It is interesting that Headley’s deposition began on the same day that Pakistan gave a clean chit to Jaish-e-Mohammed Chief, Masood Azhar for his involvement in the Pathankot airbase attack. So in that sense Headley’s deposition came at the right time in nailing the complicity of the Pakistani establishment, army and the ISI, in cross-border terrorism in India. Now there are reports which are suggesting that India is going to prepare a dossier on the 26/11 attacks and then is going to give it to the Pakistani authorities. It is very important to know that, because in 2014, Pakistan had given a clean chit to Hafiz Saeed for his involvement in the 26/11 attacks. So obviously this new dossier will help India to give concrete evidence. Pakistan was saying all along that Hafiz Saeed is not the head of Lashkar-e-Taiba but of Jamaat-ud-Dawa, which is the charity organisation; but now Headley’s deposition will make those things very clear.

Strategically speaking, it’s also very important because India has also realised that it is a good diplomatic tool to name and shame the state sponsors of terrorism, that is Pakistan. Therefore Headley’s deposition will help India make the case, not just to Pakistan but also at the international level by saying that this is the kind of life that David Headley lead, at the behest of the Pakistani ISI and Lashkar-e-Taiba, in India. Now what Pakistan does with regard to that evidence furnished by India, we will have to see.

AC: Thank you, Sameer.