Headley’s arrest leads the NIA to contradict the Mumbai Police’s theory. So who did the recce for 26/11? Brijesh Pandey and Rana Ayyub report
WHEN AMERICAN intelligence agencies passed on information to their Indian counterparts that the FBI had arrested David Coleman Headley and Tahawwur Hussain Rana, two Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) members, from Chicago’s O’Hare airport and had averted a major terror attack on Indian soil, the Government of India heaved a sigh of relief. But the relief at an averted terror attack soon turned into a huge embarrassment for the Indian Government. The government, which was till now claiming that it had tied up all the loose ends of the 26/11 investigation and knew every possible actor in the theatre of terror, somehow seems to have missed the main actor himself, if the buzz around Headley is to be believed.
According to sources in the Home Ministry and the affidavit filed by the FBI in the local Chicago courts, Headley, also known as Daood Gilani before 2006, is an American citizen of Pakistani origin. Apart from the fact that he attended a posh military prep school in Pakistan, not much is known about his childhood or, more importantly, how he was drawn into the LeT fold. What is known is that he joined the LeT in 2006 and was even trained by it. After that, Headley remained in regular touch with the terror group and Ilyas Kashmiri, top man of the Harkat-ul-Jehad-e-Islami (HUJI).
Headley maintained regular contacts with top LeT and HUJI operatives
Headley also was in contact with Rana, a senior Lashkar operative and also his batch mate from military prep school. With business interests in both Canada and US, Rana is a Canadian citizen who runs First World Immigration Services (FWIS) in Chicago. Headley exploited this front organisation when he entered India for the first time in 2006, travelling on US Passport No. 097536400. That year, to avoid suspicion, he shed the name Daood Gilani and took on the identity of David Coleman Headley, an American Jew.
Headley used his Rana connection to claim that he was a representative of the Chicago-based FWIS. When in Mumbai, he used to hobnob with Americans and was friends with locals, including Rahul Bhatt, son of well known Bollywood director Mahesh Bhatt. According to sources in intelligence agencies, his footprints show a clear link to the 26/11 attacks. When entering India, he told immigration authorities that his place of stay would be the Trident Hotel in Mumbai. He first stayed in the iconic and soon to be ill-fated Taj Hotel from March 28 to March 30, 2007, in room No. 1809, and then again, from May 2 to May 7, 2007, in room No. 314.
Unconfirmed reports also state that Rana stayed in a guesthouse in South Mumbai, near Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, until November 21, 2008, just five days before the terror attack. Headley and Rana did not stop in Mumbai, but travelled to Kochi, Pune and other places. The National Intelligence Agency (NIA), a nodal agency formed in the wake of the 26/11 attacks, is now tracing the steps of both Headley and Rana.
So how important is the arrest of Headley and Rana in India’s fight against terror? Disturbingly, the answer to this question is unclear because it seems that the NIA and Mumbai Police’s Crime Branch do not see eye to eye on this case. To date, the Mumbai Police continues to claim that Fahim Ansari and Sabauddin Ahmed conducted reconnaissance for the Mumbai attacks and that hand-drawn maps of the target areas were recovered from them. If the Mumbai Police now also join in the “Headley is the main man” chorus, they will then be hard-pressed to explain the role of Ansari and Ahmed. With the emergence of evidence that Headley and Rana were doing precisely what Fahim and Sabauddin are accused of, the Mumbai Crime Branch has egg on its face. A senior police officer of the Mumbai Crime Branch insisted that Ansari and Ahmed were the main local contacts and told TEHELKA that, “much should not be made of the arrest of Headley. He was just a member of another Lashkar module”.
THIS IS not the only inconsistency in the case. Another question which the Home Ministry is unable to answer is why the FBI is completely silent on the connection between Headley-Rana and the 26/11 attacks. According to affidavits filed by the FBI, the agency was tracking both Rana and Headley before 26/11 even happened. However, in the FBI’s 37-page affidavit on Headley and its 47-page affidavit on Rana, there is not one mention of 26/11.
Even more contradictions are brought to the fore by the affidavits. According to security agencies, the real purpose of Headley’s March 2009 visit to Delhi was the reconnaissance of the prestigious National Defence College (NDC). According to the affidavits, however, the first mention of “investments” (code name for ‘terror’) in India came only on July 3, 2009, in a conversation between Headley and Lashkar operatives, Sajid Meer and Shaikh Abdul Rahman Saeed. The NDC figured in a discussion between Headley and Sajid Meer on July 8. The affidavit is also silent on whether any kind of progress had been made by the LeT on potential terror attacks in India. So what was Headley doing in India in March 2009?
Though Indian security agencies claim that Headley was travelling all over India and planning a terror attack till October 2009, the affidavit presents a markedly different picture. According to the FBI, since October 2008, David Headley had been obsessed with carrying out terror attacks on the Danish newspaper Jyllands Posten, which had published caricatures of the Prophet Mohammed in 2005. The planned terror attacks had the weird codename “Mickey Mouse Project” and it was this obsession that led Headley to post a message on an Internet website – under his former name, Daood Gilani. This raised a red flag for the FBI, leading to his arrest.
Indian agencies were completely clueless about the activities of Headley and Rana
While the inconsistencies in the statements and the contradictions related to the involvement of local operatives have been aggravated by the Headley episode, it has given a ray of hope to Fahim Ansari’s family. When TEHELKA met Fahim’s wife Yasmin Ansari, for her reaction to this new development, she, in turn, posed a counter question: “If this man (Headley) has been arrested on charges of doing reconnaissance, do you think my husband will be acquitted?” Perhaps the Mumbai Crime Branch can answer.
Trial By A Lying Circus
It’s sensation they are all looking for. The facts are already widely known, says actor Pooja Bhatt
THE UNABATED free for all that has played out over the last week has convinced me that we have become a ‘lot’ of blame shifters who have been able to find water on the moon, but not yet developed the ability to reach out with compassion when a conflict emerges. We choose instead to point accusatory fingers and hurl stones that are hewn from our own ignorance. An ignorance further cemented by a mostly negligent media that puts forth selective, constant and contradictory information. I hope when this trying time comes to an end, the same amount of media space will be focussed on the courage displayed by these two young men, who, when caught in a bizarre and sinister twist of fate, did what all responsible and forthright citizens are meant to, but rarely do — report it to the authorities.
Vilas Varak and my brother Rahul have not been named suspects in a heinous terror plot, contrary to what is being repeated in certain circles. How could they? Considering it was ‘them’ who alerted the sluggish authorities about their connection to David Headley. Yet, such is the circus that everybody who is anybody as well as everybody who is nobody is speculating about who Headley was, how he came in contact with Vilas and Rahul and what motivated the duo to let him befriend them. All this while choosing to cast aside the uncomfortable truth that Headley was absorbed with such ease. Not only was he permitted to enter the country unrestricted, hire office space, rent an apartment in one of Mumbai’s most plush areas, but also to place ads in newspapers to lure clients for a supposed immigration business that never was. But there is a mindset that does not wish to absorb some details, choosing instead to cast blame on the very shoulders that helped bring most of this information to light. Dozens of people interacted with Headley during the course of his visits to the city and locations across India. How come not one of them came forth to volunteer information when they heard his name flashed, as promptly as Vilas and Rahul? They choose silence out of cowardice, arrogance or fear, I’m not sure.
Like responsible citizens, Vilas and my brother Rahul reported the matter to the police
My father always says that “truth, like fire, does not require any PR”. I used to agree. Of late, I vehemently disagree. Today, it’s a trussed up lie that does not require PR. It finds its way into public consciousness with far more ease than the naked truth. Through these trying times, what is extremely moving is the generosity of strangers as compared to the benign indifference of most friends — like a flood of sunlight on a night that threatens not to end.