By Sebastian Rotella, Published: May 23 Washington Post
CHICAGO — A confessed Pakistani American terrorist took the stand in a Chicago courtroom Monday and described a close alliance between Pakistan’s intelligence service and the Lashkar-i-Taiba terrorist group, alleging that Pakistani officers recruited him and played a central role in planning the 2008 Mumbai attacks.
David Coleman Headley’s long-awaited testimony at the start of a trial with international repercussions resolved one question at the outset: Federal prosecutors did not hesitate to connect Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate (ISI) to the attacks that killed 166 people, including six Americans.
Headley has pleaded guilty to doing reconnaissance in Mumbai and is the star government witness against his alleged accomplice, Tahawwur Rana. Headley testified that Lashkar “operated under the umbrella of the ISI” even after the group was banned in Pakistan in 2001.
The ISI and Lashkar “coordinated with each other,” Headley testified. “And ISI provided assistance to Lashkar: financial, military and moral support.”
After he trained three years with Lashkar, Headley said, a “Major Ali” of the ISI recruited him when he was briefly detained near the Afghanistan border in 2006. Ali referred him to an officer known as Major Iqbal, who became Headley’s handler and worked separately but in coordination with Lashkar chiefs, directing Headley’s reconnaissance in India and providing $25,000 to fund his mission.
Before reporting to Lashkar, Headley testified, he always reported first to Iqbal. Iqbal participated in key aspects of the Mumbai plot, such as target selection, the route for an amphibious attack and a proposed safe house for Lashkar gunmen, Headley said.
“This was being coordinated,” he said. “But the instructions emanated from Major Iqbal.”
Pakistani officials have repeatedly denied any ISI role in the Mumbai attacks. But Monday’s testimony is likely to intensify allegations that Pakistan plays a double game in the fight against terrorism, especially after Osama bin Laden was found hiding in a military town deep inside Pakistan.
After more than a year of official silence about the sensitive case, the prosecution’s examination of Headley quickly laid out evidence implicating the ISI in a sophisticated commando-style attack that was designed to kill Americans, Jews and other Westerners.
To corroborate Headley’s allegations, Justice Department prosecutors displayed evidence of his e-mail exchanges and phone calls with Iqbal. Headley testified that Iqbal had acquired a phone number with a New York area code and told him to call it while in Mumbai to avoid detection “because all calls, almost, from India to Pakistan are monitored.”
The case rests largely on the credibility of Headley, a former drug dealer and DEA informant. Headley has spent months helping the prosecution prepare and has cooperated enthusiastically in drug cases in the past.
But he seemed remarkably subdued Monday. The tall, broad-shouldered and balding 50-year-old took the stand wearing a blue track suit and a solemn expression. Assistant U.S. Attorney Daniel Collins asked him repeatedly to speak more loudly. The multilingual, well-traveled Headley, who speaks with a trace of a Pakistani accent, often sighed or sounded exasperated as he responded.
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