Last year's attack by an invading band of 10 seaborne terrorists in Mumbai was among the most horrifying terrorist strikes since 9/11, resulting in the deaths of 170 people, including six Americans.
Today, federal prosecutors said that there was a direct U.S. connection to the attack: a Chicago man arrested two months ago at O'Hare International Airport has confessed that he conducted extensive video surveillance that played a key role in identifying targets for the attacks.
The FBI's investigation into David Coleman Headley's links to the Mumbai terror attacks were first reported last month by Declassified.
Federal law-enforcement officials have been hinting for weeks that the probe of Headley and an alleged co-conspirator in Chicago, Tahawwur Rana (both of whom were arrested in October on charges of plotting a separate terror attack in Denmark), was among the most significant U.S. terrorism cases in years. Their investigation has revealed potential links between an American citizen (Headley, the son of a Pakistani diplomat, was born in the United States) and high-level terrorist operatives abroad. Headley is cooperating with prosecutors but Rana claims, through his lawyer, that he is innocent.
Today's charges against Headley spell out the startling details: between February 2002 and December 2003, Headley (then named "Daood Gilani") was trained as a terrorist at training camps in Pakistan run by Lashkar-e-Taiba ("Army of the Good"), the terror organization behind the Mumbai attacks.
After being directed by Lashkar members to travel to India, he changed his name from Gilani to Headley on Feb. 15, 2006, for the express purpose of presenting himself in India as an American who was neither Muslim nor Pakistani.
Headley then traveled to Chicago and advised his alleged co-conspirator (Rana) of the terror group's plans for Mumbai. The two men opened an office of Rana's company, First World Immigration Services, in Mumbai to serve as a cover for Headley's assignment of identifying targets for a terror attack.
Then, on five separate occasions between September 2006 and July 2008, Headley flew to Mumbai and made videotapes of potential targets for the terror attacks, including the luxury Taj Mahal hotel, the Oberoi hotel, and the city's main train station. Following each trip to India, Headley flew to Pakistan and met with Lashkar operatives, providing his tapes as well as photographs and oral descriptions of the various locations.
On one occasion, in April, Headley even took boat trips in and around Mumbai to videotape the city's harbor in order to assist the 10 attackers who arrived by boat on Nov. 26, 2008, to launch their assault.
The discovery of a U.S. link to the terror attack was the subject of discussions two weeks ago between President Obama and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh when Singh visited Washington.
A federal law-enforcement official also confirmed today that Justice Department officials are now in India briefing officials there on the latest results of the investigation.
The charges today could ratchet up pressure on Pakistan to crack down on Lashkar and further investigate the role of Pakistan-based terrorist plots in India. (One other detail in the charges: after the Mumbai attacks, Headley conducted further surveillance in March 2009 of the National Defense College in Delhi.) At the same time, federal prosecutors also charged another man—Abdur Rehman Hashim Syed, a retired major in the Pakistani military—with assisting Headley and Rana in the separate plot to launch terror attacks in Denmark. During one of Headley's trips to Pakistan, Rehman allegedly took him to the Federally Administered Tribal Areas region of Pakistan, on the Afghanistan border, to meet with Ilyas Kashmiri, a high-level Qaeda-linked terrorist, to plan the attack in Denmark.