U.S. News

U.S. charges Chicago man in 2008 Mumbai attack

CHICAGO (Reuters) - A Chicago man previously accused of plotting to attack a Danish newspaper was charged Monday with scouting targets for a militant Pakistani group for the 2008 attack on Mumbai that killed 166 people.

The Taj Mahal hotel is seen engulfed in smoke during a gun battle in Mumbai November 29, 2008. REUTERS/Arko Datta

U.S. prosecutors accused David Headley, the first American charged in the Mumbai plot, of performing surveillance for the militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba, which is blamed for the November 2008 Mumbai rampage on hotels and a Jewish center. Among those killed were six Americans.

He traveled to Mumbai five times between September 2006 and July 2008, taking pictures and video of some places hit in the attacks as well as the port where the attackers landed by boat, according to court documents.

Headley, who is cooperating with prosecutors, was born in the United States but spent much of his childhood in Pakistan, where he was raised by his Pakistani father.

A trial of seven Pakistanis accused of involvement in the Mumbai attacks is pending in a case that has strained India-Pakistan relations.

The case also highlights recent concern expressed by some U.S. officials about Americans who may want to carry out attacks while enjoying the freedom of movement U.S. citizenship provides.

FBI Director Robert Mueller said in a statement the case represents the “global cooperation” evident in efforts to combat terrorism. U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald in Chicago said in a statement that the investigation could yield further suspects.

“The team of prosecutors and agents will continue to seek charges against the other persons responsible for these attacks,” Fitzgerald said.


Headley, 49, was arrested in October with a Pakistani-born Chicago man on charges they plotted to attack the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten and its employees over the 2005 publication of cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad. That incident outraged Muslims and sparked violent protests.

In Headley’s luggage were surveillance videos taken in Denmark and an address book containing contact numbers.

Among the contacts was a retired major in the Pakistani military, Abdur Rehman Hashim Syed, who U.S. prosecutors accused of being Headley’s contact with Lashkar and another militant group to help plot the attacks against the newspaper, which were never carried out.

Abdur Rehman was arrested earlier this year by Pakistani authorities and released. It was not immediately clear if U.S. authorities will seek to extradite him on charges of conspiring to murder and maim in a foreign country and providing material support for terrorism.

After his trips to India, Headley traveled to Pakistan to turn over the results of his surveillance and, in early 2008, he took boat trips into the Mumbai harbor at the direction of his Lashkar contacts, according to court documents.

In November 2008, 10 attackers launched their assault on various targets in Mumbai, including several where Headley had conducted surveillance, according to the documents. Targets scouted out by Headley included the Taj Mahal hotel, the Oberoi hotel, the Leopold Cafe, the Nariman House and the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus train station.

He also scouted out a military school in India.

In India, Headley opened a branch of the travel and immigration business owned by his accused co-conspirator in Chicago as a cover for his extensive travels, according to court papers. He also changed his name in 2006 from Daood Gilani so as not to appear Muslim or Pakistani.

Rabbi Abraham Cooper of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, who recently returned from an interfaith conference in Mumbai, said Headley was believed to have carried a book, “To Praise a Jew,” to ease his entry into the Jewish center.

“It would have been a clever move because they have extensive outreach. It’s a place where Jews come together,” Cooper said.

A lawyer for Headley said the government’s filing spoke for itself and declined further comment.

(Additional reporting by Jeremy Pelofsky in Washington)

Editing by Eric Beech