Asia Times Online :: South Asia news, business and economy from India and Pakistan
Dec 15, 2009
India-US tangle looms over terror suspect
By Neeta Lal
NEW DELHI - India is seeking the extradition of a United States citizen who allegedly played a key role in last year's terrorist attacks on Mumbai.
US prosecutors charged David Headley - aka Daood Gilani - a 49-year-old US national of Pakistani origin, last week with scouting targets for the November 2008 Mumbai attacks. A US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) probe found that he "delivered, placed, discharged and detonated explosives and other lethal devices in, into and against public places in India".
last Wednesday, Headley plead not guilty to 12 counts, including six of conspiracy on the Mumbai attacks. The FBI said Headley traveled to Mumbai five times between September 2006 and July
2008, taking pictures and video of places hit in the attacks as well as the port where the 10 attackers landed by boat.
Since 2002, Headley has received training from the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) militant group, which orchestrated the attack by gunmen on Mumbai last November that killed at least 170 people, according to the FBI probe. If convicted, Headley could face the death penalty. After his trips to India, Headley apparently traveled to Pakistan to report his surveillance results.
Headley was arrested in October by the FBI's Joint Terrorism Task Force at O'Hare International Airport while boarding a flight to Philadelphia.
He and Tahawwur Rana, 48, a Pakistani-born Canadian national, were then charged in October with conspiring to attack the Jyllands Posten newspaper in Denmark. The newspaper published 12 cartoons in 2005 depicting the Prophet Mohammad that triggered protests across the Muslim world.
Experts have said that Headley's alleged training by the LeT underscores a potential terror threat posed by radicalized US citizens whose passport offers the privilege of traveling freely across international borders. By posing as an employee of an immigration agency with the help of the owner, Headley was able to pose as an international entrepreneur and freely carry out surveillance activities.
India, which has long blamed the LeT for the Mumbai massacre, has welcomed the charges against Headley. "We do hope that the United States will bring pressure to bear on Pakistan to have uniform standards on controlling terrorism on both their eastern and western borders," Manish Tewari, a spokesman of India's ruling Congress party, told the media.
His comments echo India's charge that Pakistani authorities are buttressing the LeT and other militant groups as proxies against India, charges that Islamabad denies.
As assistant attorney general for US national security, David Kris, put it, "This case serves as a reminder that the terrorist threat is global in nature and requires constant vigilance at home and abroad. The Headley example stands the US counter-terrorism approach on its head."
US Defense Secretary Robert Gates, testifying last Friday before a US Senate committee, said al-Qaeda was providing the LeT "with targeting information and helping them in their plotting in India", hoping to provoke armed conflict between Pakistan and India.
Experts fear that the LeT and its allies are becoming increasingly desperate as the Pakistan army focuses its energies on its campaign against the Pakistani Taliban in the South Waziristan tribal area.
Since the Mumbai attack, Indian security forces have girded themselves for future threats, while authorities have also stiffened visa regulations for American tourists. However, serious security concerns remain over India's porous borders and vast coastline.
Headley's arrest has triggered speculation in India over whether his trial could be moved there. The trial of Pakistani national, Ajmal Amir Kasab, a gunman in the Mumbai attack, is currently underway in Mumbai.
"We will definitely be seeking access both for interrogation and at a subsequent stage definitely his extradition," Gopal K Pillai, the top civil servant in India's Interior Ministry, said last week.
Indian government officials say they expected to complete an investigation in four to six weeks that would lead to charges being filed against Headley.
Despite a comprehensive extradition treaty signed between India and the US in 1997, Headley facing trial in India may be complicated. The US authorities are unlikely to let go of him as he may be useful to any future investigations. Doubts also remain over Headley past as a US informant
In 1997, Headley was charged in Brooklyn, New York, with importing heroin into the US, receiving a 15-month sentence in jail in return for extensive cooperation with the US Drug Enforcement Agency.
The United States has said it was "too premature" to talk about the extradition of Headley. "Obviously, we do have an extradition treaty with India, but how that will work going forward, I think that's premature," US Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs P J Crowley said on Friday.
Neeta Lal is a widely published writer/commentator who contributes to many reputed national and international print and Internet publications.