Originally Published 2010-08-24 00:00:00 Published on Aug 24, 2010
The report prepared by National Investigating Agency (NIA) on David Coleman Headley, after interrogating him for 34 hours (June 3-9, 2010), show that he was not recruited by Lashkar-e-Tayyeba (LeT) but by ISI to help in planning the Mumbai attack.
More questions in Headley report
The report prepared by National Investigating Agency (NIA) on David Coleman Headley, after interrogating him for 34 hours (June 3-9, 2010), show that he was not recruited by Lashkar-e-Tayyeba (LeT) but by ISI to help in planning the Mumbai attack. 

This is a crucial association which tests the recent claims that ISI considers terrorism as a primary threat and not India. 

Though LeT has recruited and trained non-Pakistanis to execute terrorist activities, the planning of such attacks have always remained in the hands of a select few confidants of LeT supremo Hafiz Saeed and operational commander Zaki-ur Rahman Lakhvi. This core group had proved their credentials by their long association with LeT, loyalty to Saeed and successful planning and execution of terrorist attacks in India for over two decades. A new recruit like Headley would have found it difficult to find a place in this group unless introduced by the group’s main benefactor, ISI. 

Intriguingly, despite investigations carried out by multiple agencies from different countries, there is no evidence of LeT’s network in Chicago where Headley and his accomplice Tawahhur Rana used to live. There is also no clue as to how Headley was recruited by LeT. In the past, the terrorist group has been using local mosques, community organisations and websites to recruit potential members. A agent provocateur like Headley, who had access to Hafiz Saeed and several key LeT offices and training camps, had to be recruited by some one who has been part of the core group of LeT. 

Although Saeed’s two brothers, Imam Hafiz Muhammad Hamid (Massachusetts) and Hafiz Muhammad Masood (Boston) were active in the US till they were deported two years ago, there is no evidence linking them to Headley or any LeT activity in the US. 

Headley’s answers to the NIA questions about his association with ISI may remain uncorroborated but they add to the mounting evidence, from other cases investigated by different countries, about Pakistan Army and its intelligence wing’s alliance with terrorist groups. Headley said ISI had ` a profound influence and a great control over the top brass of the LeT``. He said he used to brief his ISI handlers every time he returned from India after his reconnaissance mission. 

More alarmingly, he said also carried out `certain exclusive reconnaissance tasks` for the ISI. 

Headley said LeT never carried out big attacks in India without the ISI’s knowledge. In fact, the ISI had leaked out a story, not long after the Mumbai attack, that a group within LeT had turned rogue and hijacked their plans to carry out smaller attacks in India and not one of the Mumbai magnitude. 

Headley said he was paid by ISI’s Major Iqbal to carry out the surveillance of potential targets in India. The ISI, according to him, also paid Rs 25 lakh for the first boat acquired by LeT. The boat was destroyed during a failed attempt to reach Mumbai in September 2008. 

The Mumbai operation was run by a ISI team comprising a Brigadier (Riaz), a Colonel (Shah) and two Majors—Iqbal and Sameer Ali. 

An important element in the Mumbai conspiracy was ISI’s Karachi Project. This project, run by Col. Shah from ISI’s Foreword Section in Karachi (one of the two key ISI Foreword Sections--other is in Muzaffarabad), has two terrorist training camps under its wing---one operated by a former Pak Army officer, Major Abdur Rahman alias Pasha and another headed by a senior LeT commander, Sajid. Headley said Pasha was also once part of LeT but had separated and ran his own terrorist camp with the ISI blessing. The LeT camp is, for operational purposes, run by a LeT leader Abu Yaqoob. 

Rahman has been closely associated with Illyas Kashmiri, the No. 3 in the al Qaida hierarchy in Pakistan. According to Headley, Rahman and his team have been planning to target National Defence College and the Army Headquarters in New Delhi. Rahman reportedly told Headley that he had met Osama bin Laden who named his group, Jund ul-Fida or the Army of Fidayeen.

The fact that Headley worked with both Major Rahman and Sajid without any difficulty clearly showed the role of a common denominator, ISI. 

A crucial takeaway from the summary of Headley’s interrogation report is the role played by Sajid Majid or Mir. Sajid is a confidante of Hafiz Saeed’s brother-in-law, Abdur Rahman Makki. Makki, with connections to the Wahhabi clique in Saudi Arabia, handles LeT’s foreign operations. Sajid has been handling LeT’s foreign recruits for several years. His last known recruit was Willie Brigitte, a French national, held guilty for planning terror attacks in Australia in 2007. Sajid’s name had also cropped up during the interrogations of other terrorists in India and other places. Sajid, who handled Headley’s activities, had visited India, according to Headley. 

Sajid’s whereabouts remain unknown till this date. Equally intriguing is the mysterious assignment which Headley carried out in India exclusively for ISI. 

Wilson John is Senior Fellow with Observer Research Foundation

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