CHICAGO (Reuters) - The star witness in the U.S. case against the accused planners of the 2008 attacks on Mumbai said on Tuesday that the list of targets changed as the raids grew near, irritating his Pakistani intelligence contact.
David Headley, who has pleaded guilty to scouting targets for the militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba, testified his handler with Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence directorate, “Major Iqbal,” told him to scout all the targets carefully.
“He told me to do detailed surveillance and he seemed upset that (Mumbai‘s) airport was not on the list,” Headley said in his second day of testimony.
Iqbal had remarked that a targeted Jewish community center was a haven for Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency, Headley said, adding that other potential targets were the Mumbai police headquarters and an Indian naval station.
Headley is testifying at a U.S. trial about his knowledge of the Mumbai plot and his use of a Chicago-based immigration business, owned by his Pakistan-born friend Tahawwur Rana, as a cover story while he did his Indian surveillance work.
Rana, 50, a Canadian citizen living in Chicago, is the only person on trial for plotting the November 2008 attacks, which killed more than 160 people including six Americans in coordinated commando-style raids on India’s largest city.
Six Pakistanis have been charged as co-conspirators but are not in custody.
Rana’s lawyer said his client was tricked into thinking Headley’s espionage work was for the Pakistani government and that he was unaware of its true purposes.
The trial follows the U.S. killing earlier this month of Osama bin Laden in Pakistan that raised questions about Pakistan’s knowledge of the al Qaeda leader’s whereabouts and the country’s commitment to fight militant groups.
Headley described separate meetings with his Lashkar handler, Sajid Mir, with Iqbal and with a retired Pakistan military officer named Abdur Rehman, known as “Pasha.”
Headley said “Pasha” was anxious to launch the attacks, which ultimately targeted luxury hotels, Mumbai’s main railway station, a cafe popular with tourists, the Jewish community center and other buildings.
“For all the actions against Muslims, this would be revenge for that,” Headley said Pasha told him.
Later, Pasha told Headley about an al Qaeda figure he was acquainted with who might help them, but Headley was not asked to reveal more about the connection.
Headley, who grew up in Pakistan, has said he voluntarily joined up with Lashkar to fight against India.
India has been closely watching the case for evidence of Pakistan’s role in plotting the attacks and of government contacts with militant groups including al Qaeda.
“The Pakistani military and intelligence services are not homogenous organizations,” said terrorism expert Rick Nelson of the Center for Strategic and International Studies told Reuters. “It’s pretty clear that some elements are in contact with militant groups.”
Headley testified that he told his handlers about a friendship he had struck up with Raja Rege, a public relations officer with Shiv Sena, an ultra-right wing Indian group that was despised by Headley and his handlers.
Headley said he suggested jokingly that they should assassinate Shiv Sena members.
At one point, the plotters discussed attacking Shiv Sena’s temple near Mumbai.
Initially the Mumbai train station was to be used as a means for the attackers to escape, but it became a target when Lashkar decided the militants would fight to the death.
“Sajid wanted them to fight well and said they wouldn’t if they were thinking about leaving,” Headley said.
Headley said he was in Lahore, Pakistan, when his handler sent him a text message that the Mumbai attack had begun.
“I was pleased,” Headley said he felt as he watched the three-day assault unfold on television. “But I was concerned that the whole plan had been leaked out.”
Headley’s plea deal allows him to avoid the death penalty and not be extradited to India or Denmark, where he and Rana also have been charged in a plot to attack a Danish newspaper that was never carried out.
Editing by David Lawder