Headley gets 35 years for picking Mumbai targets
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Pakistani-American Lashkar-e-Toiba terrorist David Headley was Thursday sentenced to 35 years in jail by a US court for the November 2008 Mumbai terror attacks in which 165 people were killed, with the judge expressing his unhappiness over the prosecution seeking a lighter term.
Headley, 52, had entered into a plea bargain with US investigators and escaped the death sentence. But many were surprised when the US prosecutors did not seek the life sentence for Headley.
Headley was ordered to serve 35 years, followed by five years of supervised release by US District Judge Harry Leinenweber. There is no federal parole and defendants must serve at least 85 per cent of their sentence.
"Mr. Headley is a terrorist," the judge said while imposing the sentence in a packed court. "He commits crime, cooperates and then gets rewarded for the cooperation. No matter what I do, it is not going to deter terrorists. Unfortunately, terrorists do not care for it. I do not have any faith in Mr Headley when he says that he is a changed person now," the judge said.
"I do believe that it is my duty to protect the public from Mr Headley and ensure that he does not get into any further terrorist activities. Recommending 35 years is not a right sentence. I will accept the government motion... and sentence of 35 years," he said.
"The sentence I impose, I'm hopeful it will keep Mr Headley under lock and key for the rest of his natural life," Leinenweber said. The judge said it would have been much easier to impose the death penalty. "That's what you deserve."
Asked if he wanted to make a statement, Headley said, "No your honour". Headley was sentenced on 12 counts including conspiracy to aid Lashkar-e-Toiba, which mounted the attacks on landmarks in the heart of the Indian financial capital.
Before Leinenweber imposed the sentence, a victim shot in the attack gave emotional testimony during the hearing. Linda Ragsdale, a Tennessee children's author, spoke through tears describing how she lost friends in the attacks and her own injuries. She said she was haunted by the sounds of people suffering and her recovery from the wounds continues.
"I know what a bullet can do to every part of the human body," she said. "I know the sound of life leaving a 13-year-old child. These are things I never needed to know, never needed to experience."
A week back, Judge Leinenweber had sentenced 52-year-old Headley's school friend, Tahawwur Rana, to 14 years of imprisonment followed by three years of supervised release for providing material support to LeT and planning to attack a Danish newspaper in Copenhagen.
Both Headley and Rana were arrested in 2009. Headley was a small-time narcotics dealer turned US Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) informer who went rogue. He was picked up by the FBI in October 2009 at the Chicago airport on his way to Pakistan for meetings with top terrorist leaders including Illyas Kashmiri.
In their closing argument, US attorneys Daniel J Collins and Sarah E Streicker had sought between 30 and 35 years of imprisonment for Headley.
His attorneys Robert David Seeder and John Thomas had sought a lighter sentence arguing that the amount of information he provided to US authorities against terrorist organisations such as LeT and several of its leaders.
Headley has confessed that he had undertaken numerous scouting missions for his handlers in Pakistan. He had videographed a number of targets in India including the iconic Taj Mahal hotel in Mumbai which was attacked by the LeT terrorists.
According to security agencies, the detailed videos made by Headley were the foundation on which the Mumbai attacks were planned and executed. Headley had even changed his name from Daood Gilani in 2006 to easily move in and out of India without raising suspicion.
The US attorneys argued that while there is no question that Headley's criminal conduct was deplorable, his decision to cooperate, provided uniquely significant value to the US government's efforts to combat terrorism.
"We are seeking less than life-time sentencing, because of the significant intelligence value information provided by Headley. Crime is deplorable, shocking and horrific. I am not going to find the words to describe the Mumbai terrorist attack. The job is to balance the how serious the crime was and the information he provided immediately after his arrest," Collins said.
"We have to recognize the significant value of the information. We believe that 30-35 years of imprisonment would be justified an balanced and thus be downgraded from life sentence," he said.
Besides providing insight into the personnel, structure, methods, abilities and plans of LeT, Headley took active steps to further the investigation into other terrorists including his handler Sajid Mir.
Mir was a senior Lashkar leader who was one of the main architects of the Mumbai attacks and acted as one of the controllers providing directions to the 10 attackers.
Sajid was Headley's handler. Abu Qahafa, a senior Lashkar member who provided combat and other training to the 10 attackers, acted as one of the controllers.
Headley's cooperation assisted the government in filing criminal charges against at least seven other individuals, and his testimony helped secure the conviction of one co-defendant, federal prosecutors said.
Federal prosecutors also pointed out that Headley cooperated with Indian investigating agencies for seven days and that he has agreed to provide co-operation in the future as well through various means including videoconferencing. But his extradition has been ruled out.
"As the court knows, Headley's testimony helped secure a conviction against (Tahawwur) Rana. Further, Headley has agreed to provide truthful testimony in any proceeding in the United States if called upon by the United States Attorney's office, as well as any foreign judicial proceeding held in the United States by way of deposition, videoconferencing or letters rogatory," Collins said.
- Press Trust of India, with AP inputs
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