CHICAGO (Reuters) - A former U.S. drug informant who said he worked with Pakistan’s intelligence agency on planning the 2008 Pakistani militant attack on Mumbai testified on Tuesday that agency higher-ups were unaware of the plot.
“The higher officers (did not know),” David Headley told a federal court in Chicago when asked by a defense attorney for accused co-conspirator Tahawwur Rana if all of the Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence directorate (ISI) knew of the planned attack that killed 160 people.
“I was only in contact with him (Major Iqbal of the ISI) but I suspect his colonel knew about it,” Headley said. He says Iqbal, who has been indicted in the attack along with five other Pakistanis, provided guidance during Headley’s surveillance work in India’s largest city.
Headley, a 50-year-old 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.
He is the key witness in the prosecution of Rana, a Pakistani-born Canadian businessman charged with conspiring in the Mumbai attack and the Danish plot and with providing support to the Pakistani militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), which is blamed for the Mumbai attack. Rana, 50, could face life in prison.
The trial in the District Court in Chicago is being eyed closely in India for evidence of Pakistan’s government involvement in attacks on its long-time rival by LeT and other militant groups.
Headley, who has admitted doing reconnaissance work for the Mumbai attack and Danish plot, is testifying as part of deal to avoid the death penalty and extradition to India, Pakistan or Denmark.
During the past week he has told the court the ISI coordinated activities by LeT and other militant groups.
Defense attorney Patrick Blegen has sought to persuade the jury that Headley, who was arrested by the FBI in 2009 in the Mumbai and Denmark conspiracies, is a liar who implicated Rana to justify the deal with U.S. prosecutors.
Headley also testified that a Pakistani militant leader with ties to al Qaeda, Ilyas Kashmiri, asked him about the availability of guns in the United States.
The militants, Headley said, wanted to assassinate the chief executive of U.S. defense contractor Lockheed Martin in a bid to halt production of the drones used by the U.S. military against militants in northern Pakistan.
“Kashmiri had people who had done surveillance (of the executive) already, and he asked me if weapons were readily available here,” Headley said.
Headley has testified that Kashmiri was targeted but not killed by a U.S. drone attack.
Six Pakistanis including Kashmiri, Iqbal, a retired military officer named Pasha have been indicted in the United States in the Mumbai conspiracy but are not in custody. Rana’s defense has questioned whether Iqbal even exists.
Headley said that after his arrest he unsuccessfully tried to draw militants out of Pakistan to be arrested by U.S. authorities. Failing that, he proposed to be released to travel to Pakistan to target Kashmiri for another drone attack with a gift sword implanted with a computer chip.
In February 2010, militants attacked a cafe in Pune, India. After the attack Headley told U.S. investigators he had done some surveillance in Pune but he said the work was not assigned to him by his Pakistani contacts and he did not say if he was aware of the planned assault.
“I made some omissions” in speaking with U.S. agents, Headley testified. “You told many lies,” Blegen replied.
Blegen also said that Headley had an interest in wrongly implicating Rana in the Mumbai attack. “If you don’t get someone arrested, all the weight of the case would fall on you alone?” Blegen asked, prompting Headley to agree with the statement.
Editing by Paul Simao