— CHICAGO (AP) — A small-time American drug dealer-turned-terrorist plotter who helped plan the brutal 2008 attack on Mumbai, India, learns Thursday whether his wide-ranging cooperation with U.S. investigators will earn him any leniency as he faces sentencing in federal court.
David Coleman Headley, 52, faces a maximum life prison term when U.S. District Judge Harry Leinenweber sentences him for his role in a three-day rampage in which 10 gunmen from a Pakistani-based militant group fanned out across Mumbai, attacking a crowded train station, the landmark Taj Mahal Hotel and other targets. Around 160 people were killed, including children.
Prosecutors, though, are asking for a relatively lenient term of 30 to 35 years, which leaves open the possibility Headley one day could go free. Headley seemed to leap at the chance to spill secrets following his 2009 arrest and continued providing details even after the U.S. government agreed not to seek the death penalty in exchange for his cooperation.
Prosecutors say Headley, who was born in the U.S. to a Pakistani father and American mother, was motivated in part by his hatred of India going back to his childhood. He changed his birth name from Daood Gilani in 2006 so he could travel to and from India more easily to do reconnaissance without raising suspicions.
He never pulled a trigger in the attack that's been called India's 9/11, but his contribution to the Pakistani-based militant group, Lashkar-e-Taiba, made the assault more deadly. He conducted meticulous scouting missions — videotaping and mapping targets — so the attackers who had never been to Mumbai adeptly found their way around.
"What he did was unfathomable," said James Kreindler, an attorney for relatives of American victims. "Imagine what is going through a person's mind who is videotaping these places knowing what will happen there later."