The pub owner who became a terror spy

Illustration: Vikram Nongmaithem
Illustration: Vikram Nongmaithem

I was born in 1960 in the United States of America. My father Syed Gilani was a Pakistani national and mother Serrill Headley was an American national. After my birth, the family relocated to Pakistan where I was raised. I went to a military school in Hasan Abdal, Punjab, Pakistan, known as the Cadet College Hassan Abdal. My father divorced my mother in 1966 and married Syeda Begum in Pakistan. In 1977, I was relocated to the US to live with my mother. My mother owned a pub and restaurant called Khyber Pass in Philadelphia. I studied accounting at a community college in Philadelphia. With my mother, I operated a video store, Flicks Video, in New York. In 1985, I took over the charge of the pub, ran it for a year and quit the business. I have two half- brothers, Hamza Gilani and Danyal Gilani. Both are in the Pakistan civil services; Danyal was also posted as information officer in the Pakistan Prime Minister’s Office. My father had worked in the Pakistan broadcasting department and had gone to the US on deputation to the Voice of America. We are originally from Punjab. My father had remained in Uttar Pradesh for some time before Partition. He had studied at the IslamiaSchool in Etawah. He then studied in the GovernmentCollege at Lahore.

During my stay in Pakistan, I used to go to Qadisiya mosque to offer prayers. Once I saw a poster of the LeT in Lahore requesting for funds for jihad in India. I was touched by the poster. The poster had the telephone number of the LeT’s office in ModelTown, Lahore. I called up the number. Two persons, one of them Abid who worked in the Model Town LeT office and is settled in Spain, came and collected Rs 50,000 from me in cash. They requested me to attend a lecture the same evening to be delivered by LeT chief Hafiz Saeed in the house of a Lahore-based businessman Shaikh Nadim. Saeed’s lecture on the relevance of jihad and his mention of Hadith really influenced me. He quoted a Hadith, which said that a moment spent in jihad gives you much more sawab (reward) than the millions of namaz offered in Kaaba and that too on the night of Lailatur Qadr (a pious night of Ramadan). I met Hafiz Saeed for the first time here. When I returned home I checked the veracity of what he said from the Hadith. I found he was referring to a Bukhari Hadith, sayings of prophet compiled by Imam Bukhari. I was attracted to jihad.

I used to regularly offer prayer at the Qadisiya mosque in Lahore. This is considered a LeT mosque and is guarded by armed LeT cadres. Saeed usually offers Friday namaz here. Sometime around 2001, I decided to join the LeT and fight for jihad. I met Hafiz Saeed during Friday prayers at Qadisiya mosque. I rented my store in the US and wanted to contribute the money for the cause of jihad. Saeed politely declined and said I must stay away from earnings that are against the basics of Salafi thought. In February 2002, I went to the Daura-e-Sufa training for three weeks in Muridke. The training included lectures on Tohid and other practices of Salafi thought. During this course, Saeed’s mother died. So all of us went from the training camp to Saeed’s place and expressed our condolence.

After this there were many training programmes, many meetings with several people, and many discussions. I wanted to fight in Kashmir but they said I did not suit the age criteria to fight in Kashmir. Because I was not sent to Kashmir, I became skeptical about my future. I began feeling neglected. I mentioned this to some people but I was told to wait. Subsequently, it was decided that I would go to India to carry out LeT activities. But it was not clear where in India I would go to. We discussed Kolkata, New Delhi, Mumbai, Nagpur, Bengaluru, Pune, Hyderabad, Ahmedabad, etc. I suggested I change my name and use my American passport to conceal my identity. The LeT appreciated these ideas.

Between October and December 2005, I had gone to Muzaffarabad on three occasions. I met Abu Qahafa, Muzzammil, Sajid Majid and Abu Anas during this period. Around the end of December Muzzammil, Abdul Rehman, Sajid and I went to a camp in Athmuqam. I suspected they were preparing for an attack, possibly a train attack in India. Sajid used to call the safe house in Muzaffarabad ‘Ice Box’. They showed me a number of CDs of atrocities on Indian Muslims. Babu Bajrangi’s videos of the Gujarat riots were also shown as was a map of Cyberabad. I believe the LeT has already conducted a surveillance of the Rajkot oil refinery and it is a potential target.

In January 2006, I proposed to activate some of my old contacts from my drug-dealing days for help in smuggling weapons to India. In the first week of February 2006, I the US and changed my name. But I did not change my Social Security Number in the US. In March 2006, I returned to Pakistan where I met Major Iqbal. I found him more professional. He assigned a man to train me on the basics of intelligence like how to create sources, how to take cover, and so on. I would then be taken to the streets of Lahore to implement them. I enjoyed this. This was far more scientific and effective that the training I got in LeT camps. Major Iqbal would give me reading material including information about India, prepared in English with each page labelled ‘secret’. I read them with great interest and began to discuss Dr Tahawwur Rana with Major Iqbal. Dr Rana had deserted the Pakistan army sometime in the early 1980s and never returned to Pakistan. He was a doctor in the Pakistan army and was from my college. I gave Dr Rana’s number to Major Iqbal.

In June 2006, I stayed in Dr Rana’s place for a few weeks. We had an elaborate discussion on the establishment of an Immigrant Law Centre in Mumbai. I told Dr Rana the entire plan of the LeT and the ISI. I sought his help, which he readily agreed to provide. He and Raymond Sanders, who I had met in Chicago, prepared the papers for my Indian visa. I had no idea that so many columns needed to be filled up in the application form. I provided false information on father’s name and a few other particulars. I collected my visa, for one year, the next day from the Indian Consulate in Chicago. When I applied for the Indian visa, my passport already had a Pakistan visa stamp. My Pakistan visits in February and June were also recorded in the passport.

Dr Rana was influenced by my thoughts and actions. I could understand that he had genuine feelings to fight for the cause of Islam. I told Dr. Rana that my nephew would send him money, which he would have to send to me in India. As I understood it, Dr Rana had a soft corner for the cause of Islam and saw a genuine business opportunity in India. It was decided that we would talk in English when I called Dr Rana from India.

After my return from the US, In August 2006, I showed my Indian visa separately to Major Iqbal in Lahore and Sajid in Muzaffarabad. Major Iqbal gave me $25,000 in three bundles, $10,000, $10,000 and $5,000. These bundles had no bank ribbon on them. When I met Sajid, he was aware that I had received money from Major Iqbal. The LeT did not provide me money for this trip. I carried only $3000-$4000 during my first trip and two credit cards. I carried my mother-in-law’s camera with which I did videography and photography. I spoke to Dr Rana before my visit and he gave me the details of a man named Bashir who would receive me at the Mumbai airport. This was my first visit to India. I reached Hotel Outram in Mumbai and got the money exchanged with the help of Abdullah, an employee in the hotel. I purchased a mobile phone and a SIM card.

While in India I never contacted anyone in Pakistan. As instructed, I would communicate with Dr Rana who in return would talk to Pakistan. I used the cyber cafe of Hathway and a couple of other cyber cafes near Hotel Outram. I purchased memory sticks. I befriended Ashwin Rajpal, Vilas Varak, Kania Messman, Rahul Bhatt and so on. I had taken great care to conceal my identity. I submitted a form in the Reserve Bank of India, Mumbai, under the signature of Raymond Joseph Sanders for establishing a liaison office of M/s. Immigrant Law Centre, Chicago, at Tardeo AC Market, Mumbai. In September 2006, I appointed Mahrukh R Bharucha, a Parsi resident of Mumbai, as secretary. I took extensive photographs of the BMC building, Haji Ali, Gateway of India, Taj Hotel, Apollo Bunder, police headquarters, DN Road, Azad Maidan, areas close to Hotel Outram, Marine Drive areas and so on. I received money from Dr Rana on two occasions, from a bank close to the Oberoi. I did not leave Mumbai during this visit.

On returning to Lahore, I contacted Major Iqbal and gave him the 2GB memory stick where I had stocked all that I photographed. He kept it with him. We did not see any of the videos together. After a couple of days, I left for Muzaffarabad. Sajid came in a jeep to receive me. I stayed at Bait-ul-Mujahiddin where I met Abu Anas, Abu Qahafa, Muzzammil and Zaki. Sajid took the footage and discussed the Taj hotel. Sajid was particular about the annual conference of software professionals in the Taj. He was also interested in my association with Rahul Bhatt. Before coming to India a second time, I did not go out of Pakistan. I took briefings from Major Iqbal and Sajid separately. This time as well, I did not receive any money from the LeT. I carried the same camera.

I reached Mumbai on February 21, 2007. I had requested Ms Bharucha to get a new SIM card for my trip. I opened an account in the Reliance cyber cafe. I was engulfed by developments on the personal front during this period. I came back to Lahore on March 15, 2007, to attend to personal issues and left for Mumbai after five days. I discussed these issues with Dr Rana. I reached Mumbai a third time on March 20. I was back for a fourth time on May 20, 2007, and spent time with Vilas and Rahul Bhatt. I did some general videography and was in regular touch with Dr Rana. I made trips to Pakistan and the US and, when I was in the US, I applied for a multiple visa to India.

In September 2007, I landed in New Delhi from Lahore. It was either my fifth or sixth visit. I took a taxi to The Claridges and the same evening, I took a flight to Mumbai. I reached Mumbai on September 4, 2007. I conducted extensive survey of various entry and exit points of the Taj hotel. The Shiv Sena Bhawan was extensively videographed. I also visited the house of Bal Thackeray and talked to some of the guards. I tried to become close to Rajaram Rege, the Shiv Sena PRO. I took him out for lunch and videographed him. I understand that at this time, the LeT had a limited plan to attack the Taj in Mumbai during the annual conference of software professionals. Often, Sajid would discuss the option of sending attackers through Nepal or Bangladesh.

I returned to Muzaffarabad and discussed the Taj. We saw many of videos of the al Qaeda in Afghanistan and some very old videos of Osama bin Laden. We did a comprehensive study of the Taj on Google Earth. During this period I met Zaki in Muzaffarabad and had dinner with him. My country, Pakistan, was undergoing an identity crisis in the wake of the happenings in Afghanistan and FATA areas of Pakistan. A debate had begun among the terrorist outfits as to where to fight: in Kashmir or in Afghanistan. This led to splits in many outfits. Zaki had a serious problem in convincing the LeT to fight for Kashmir and against India. Zaki justified jihad in Kashmir saying it was legitimate because the ratio of forces to the population is one of the highest in the world. He also used to say the LeT had developed credibility in Kashmir because of its past operations. A third reason was that LeT camps were physically close to Kashmir.

Adapted from the National Intelligence Agency report on David Headley’s interrogation


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