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David Headley: The man, the mystery and why the US protects him so much

By Vicky Nanjappa
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    New Delhi, July 25: David Coleman Headley has always been a mystery. When he came several times to India to conduct a reconnaissance in Mumbai ahead of the 26/11 attack, he fully managed to dodge the intelligence and never came under the radar.

    David Coleman Headley

    He is now again in the news after reports suggested that he was brutally assaulted at a Chicago jail by two brothers. While it was claimed that he was critically injured, there are also rumours that he may be dead. There is however absolutely no confirmation on this and his lawyer John Theis too denied having any knowledge of such an incident.

    First and foremost, there is no confirmation as to which jail in the US he is lodged in. While reports suggest he was in Chicago at the time of the attack, all attempts to track the location were futile.

    Also Read | David Headley, battles for life after being assaulted for being Islamic terrorist

    A search on the inmate locator on the website of the Federal Bureau of Prisons yielded no results. We tried searching with the names David Coleman Headley as well as with his original name Daood Sayed Gilani and both yielded no results.

    The big cover up of a double agent:

    The US has always been secretive about David Headley. He made several trips to India on the pretext of opening an immigration office. He changed his name from Daood Gilani to David Headily so as to project himself as an American who was neither Muslim nor Hindu.

    He had made five trips to Mumbai in September 2006, February and September 2007 and April and July 2008.

    The maps drawn out by him were used by the ten Lashkar-e-Tayiba terrorists who attacked Mumbai on 26/11. After the attacks, the probe was conducted by the Mumbai police in detail. They were however unable to find the man who had provided all this information. The police ended up arresting Sabahuddin Ahmed and Fahim Ansari on the allegation that they had conducted the reconnaissance. However the case against both were thrown out of the court stating it was frivolous in nature.

    It was almost two years later that the US informed India about Headley and said he was the man who had carried out the surveys. India suspected back then that the US may have had information about his visits, but never intimated the intelligence. An Intelligence Bureau official told OneIndia that their was information from the US, but it was extremely vague in nature and not actionable.

    By the time India was informed about Headley, a plea bargain deal had entered into. This meant he could not be sentenced to death and more importantly for Headley and US, he could not be extradited.

    Also Read | On Headley being attacked, lawyer says, ' news to me'

    The question is what was the US guarding so desperately. It was later learnt that Headily was a double agent. He was sent on an assignment to Pakistan and Afghanistan by the CIA to track down the drug cartel. He is said to have turned rogue and then came in contact with the Lashkar-e-Tayiba and Al-Qaeda. The association that the US had with him after that is not clear, but the manner in which he was guarded by the United States was fishy and till date continues to be the same.

    The NIA's ordeal:

    The NIA has managed to question him just once. A second request continues to remain pending. Headley was however allowed to appear through video conferencing before a Mumbai court a few years back.

    The team of the NIA which was allowed to question Headley, did not have it easy in the US. Despite landing on the stipulated date, the appointment with Headley was granted almost ten days later. The questioning of Headley did not yield much result either. The questioning was conducted under the watch of the FBI and Headley. Prior to this he had made a confessional statement to the FBI as part of his plea bargain deal. He did not say a word more than what he had already said. The NIA officer says that it appeared as though the FBI was present there to ensure that he did not say more than what was already on record.

    The NIA also had no luck in getting in touch with Tawwahur Rana, an accomplice of Headley. Rana, according to investigations had played a vital role and was the one who facilitated the fake documents for Headley through his travel firm. Several attempts to question Rana went in vain, NIA officials also point out.

    The mystery called David Headley:

    After his arrest there was news that his Moroccon wife, Faiza Outalha had complained about him to the FBI, but it was never taken seriously. When this correspondent had interviewed Faiza in 2011, she had said, "Well, I lied about most of the things that I told them, and they understood that I was lying. But then yet with his previous DEA job, that I only found out about later, and with his prison record he had at the time that I went to them, he should have been targeted directly and immediately but he was moving freely and by then it was upsetting me because I had a case against him."

    Whether it came to information about his location or asking more questions than what he had already confessed, the US has been a nightmare to deal with for India. Even after reports of his assault came up, US Ambassador to India, Kenneth Juster remained to stay mum. On being asked what is the update on Headley, he chose not to answer and just walked away.

    The US authorities too did not give any update on his whereabouts or condition. The Metropolitan Correctional Centre said, " we are not able to locate information about this individual."

    India is not trying to gather more information about Headley. India will have to seek information through the official channels. Indian officials say that they would try and seek information, but it is highly unlikely that they would get any.

    Meanwhile Headley's lawyer, John Theis has denied reports that his client had been assaulted. John, who has represented Headley, a convict in the Mumbai 26/11 attacks said the news of his being assaulted was news to him. I have no information about the attack. I cannot disclose where he is, but I can tell you that I have no information that he was attacked, the lawyer was quoted by the media as saying.

    "I am in regular communication with Mr.Headley. There is no basis for the report in the Indian press," Theis said.

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