The ongoing review being conducted for the US director of national intelligence has already found at least five cases in which US agencies were warned that Mumbai terror plotter David Coleman Headley was fanatical about Pakistan’s struggle with India over Kashmir and working with Pakistani militants, The Washington Post said on Saturday.
The report was co-published by the Post and ProPublica, an investigative journalism group that first revealed that one of Headley’s wives had warned FBI agents in August 2005 that Headley had undergone intensive training with Lashkar-e-Taiba and “was an active militant”.
India’s outrage over the revelations ahead of president Obama’s visit prompted the US review. The US might have played for time and ensured president Obama’s smooth passage to India by ordering the review, but it is inevitably opening a can of worms.
The report indicated that leads piled up over seven years, starting in 2001, but stunningly Headley was not questioned or placed on a terror watch list. The review has unearthed strong warnings against Headley offered up by ex-wives, girlfriends and associates in 2001, 2002, 2007, April 2008 and December 2008.
“The review, which is not complete, has found that allegations about the Pakistani American businessman’s extremist ties began as early as 2001 and were more numerous and specific than previously disclosed,” officials close to FBI, CIA and other US agencies told ProPublica.
In a previously unreported tip just seven months before the Mumbai attacks, Headley’s Moroccan wife told the US Embassy in Pakistan that she suspected Headley was linked to a 2007 train bombing in India that was blamed on Lashkar. She was referring to blasts in the Samjhauta Express that killed 68 people.
US intelligence officials got their first tip as far back as early October 2001, just weeks after the September 11 attacks, when a former girlfriend told agents that Headley supported Pakistani extremists and wanted to fight in the Indian subcontinent for the group’s cause.
Based on this tip, agents from the US joint terrorism task force interviewed at least three people, including Headley’s mother, Serrill, a wealthy Philadelphian. She told them her son was “passionate” about Pakistan’s battle with India over Kashmir. From an Indian perspective, just this tiny tidbit passed along from the US would have been sufficient to ensure that Headley never got a visa to travel to Mumbai from the Indian consulate in Chicago.
It is a tragedy that despite the incessant warnings given to US agencies, Headley continued to travel to Pakistan, India, Dubai and Europe, casing out potential targets and gathering material that made possible the attacks by Pakistani militants on Mumbai.