May 26, 2011 / 8:18 PM / 7 years ago

Witness challenged in U.S. trial on Mumbai attack

CHICAGO (Reuters) - The key prosecution witness testifying about the planning of the 2008 Pakistani militant raid on Mumbai said on Thursday he may have been wrong to divulge the plot to his friend and accused co-conspirator, a Pakistan-born Chicago businessman.

David Headley, under questioning from a lawyer for defendant Tahawwur Rana, admitted that by sharing the Mumbai attack plan with Rana he violated the espionage training he received from Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence directorate (ISI) and Lashkar-e-Taiba, the militant group blamed in the raid that killed 160 people.

Headley, a U.S.-born American with a Pakistani father, has pleaded guilty to scouting targets for the Mumbai attackers, and with planning a separate assault, never carried out, against a Danish newspaper to revenge unflattering cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad.

Rana is charged with conspiring in the Mumbai attack and the Danish plot and with providing support to Lashkar. The 50-year-old Canadian could face life in prison.

The trial is being watched closely for clues of Pakistani government involvement in the attack that could heighten U.S.-Pakistani tensions following the American killing of al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in Pakistan.

Defense lawyer Charles Swift, who says Rana was duped by Headley and was unaware of the Mumbai plot, challenged Headley about what evidence he had of his ISI contact, known as Major Iqbal, who provided guidance during Headley’s surveillance work in Mumbai.

“You can’t even identify him, or find him?” Swift asked, to which Headley agreed.

Headley testified this week that ISI and elements of Pakistan’s military -- namely a retired army major he knew as “Pasha” -- coordinated Lashkar’s attacks.

Iqbal and Pasha are among six Pakistanis charged in the U.S. case who are not in custody.

By pleading guilty and agreeing to testify in U.S. District court, Headley has avoided the death penalty and cannot be extradited.

“Major Iqbal said to give Dr. Rana only generalities?” Swift asked. “Just what he needed to know,” Headley confirmed.

“That was one of the lessons (of Headley’s espionage training): trust no one,” Swift said. “They could give you away, sometimes without even knowing ... . Yet you violated every rule that you had been taught?”

“I violated some,” Headley said.

Headley brought his Muslim second wife, covered in Muslim garb, to the Taj Mahal Hotel in Mumbai more than a year before the raid on the hotel and other targets. Swift said the misstep could have exposed his cover as a non-Muslim American opening an immigration office for Rana.

“Definitely I was being careless,” Headley said.

The trial was expected to last four weeks, and is about half over.

Editing by Xavier Briand

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