Headley pleads guilty to terror charges
In a volte-face, Pakistani-American LeT operative David Coleman Headley, accused of plotting the 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks and conspiring to target a Danish newspaper, on Thursday pleaded guilty before a US court here.
In a plea bargain, Headley has been assured of no extradition to India in return. Also there will be no death penalty for Headley.
He also won't be allowed extradition to Denmark and Pakistan and there will be no trial for Headley.
Forty nine-year-old Headley, who was arrested by the FBI's joint terrorism task force on October 3 last year, told US District Judge Harry Leinenweber that he wanted to change his plea to guilty, in an apparent bid to get a lighter sentence than the maximum death penalty.
Headley, charged on 12-count, admitted guilty in all of them.
Headley, son of a Pakistani diplomat and a Philadelphia socialite, admitted to using his friend Tahawwur Rana's immigration company as a cover for surveillance activities in India and Denmark on behalf of Pakistan-based terrorist groups, including Lashkar-e-Toiba.
Wearing an orange jumpsuit with hands and legs shackled, Headley was produced before the court under unprecedented security arrangements.
Security forces along with sniffer dogs were deployed around the court. Special metal detector doors were erected at the entrance of the packed court room.
Headley admitted guilty in all six counts of conspiracy involving bombing public places in India, murdering and maiming persons in India and providing material support to foreign terrorist plots and LeT; and six counts of aiding and abetting the murder of US citizens in India.
Indian blames LeT for carrying out Mumbai terror attacks in November 2008 that killed 166 people including six Americans.
Headley is also charged with plotting attacks against Danish newspaper 'Jyllands-Posten' which published a blasphemous cartoon of Prophet Mohammad.
John Theis, Headley's lawyer, had earlier said his client will plead guilty, but declined to comment on whether he would do so to all the charges against him.
The American terror suspect had got away with a lesser sentence after he was arrested in 1998 for smuggling heroin into the US from Pakistan as he cooperated with the investigation in the case.
He was sentenced to less than two years in prison and thereafter went to Pakistan to conduct undercover surveillance operations for the Drug Enforcement Administration.
Headley, admitted that he participated in planning the November 2008 terrorist attacks in Mumbai, India, as well as later planning to attack a Danish newspaper.
He also admitted that he attended training camps in Pakistan operated by Lashkar-e-Toiba on five separate occasions between 2002 and 2005.
In late 2005, Headley received instructions from three members of Lashkar to travel to India to conduct surveillance, which he did five times leading up to the Mumbai attacks three years later that killed six Americans among approximately 164 people and wounded hundreds more.
A 35-page plea agreement containing a detailed recitation of Headley's participation in terror conspiracies was presented when he changed his plea to guilty.
"By this plea agreement defendant agrees to enter a voluntary plea of guilty to all counts," said a 35-page plea agreement of Headley.
Headley has cooperated with the Government since he was arrested on October 3, 2009, and the agreement states that he "has provided substantial assistance to the criminal investigation, and also has provided information of significant intelligence value."
In light of Headley's past cooperation and expected future cooperation, the Attorney General of the United States has authorised the United States Attorney in Chicago not to seek the death penalty against Headley, it said.
Regarding sentencing, which will be deferred until after the conclusion of Headley's cooperation, the plea agreement calculates an anticipated advisory sentencing guideline of life imprisonment.
"Today's guilty plea is a crucial step forward in our efforts to achieve justice for the more than 160 people who lost their lives in the Mumbai terrorist attacks. Working with our domestic and international partners, we will not rest until all those responsible for the Mumbai attacks and the terror plot in Denmark are held accountable," said Attorney General Eric Holder.
"Not only has the criminal justice system achieved a guilty plea in this case, but David Headley is now providing us valuable intelligence about terrorist activities. As this case demonstrates, we must continue to use every tool available to defeat terrorism both at home and abroad.