NEW DELHI/MUMBAI: India has decided to move for the extradition of US-based terrorists of the Lashkar-e-Taiba -- David Coleman Headley and Tahawwur
Hussain Rana -- with indications that the former may have done the recce in Mumbai for 26/11 and in New Delhi and other cities where the LeT had planned similar carnages.
Investigations have established that besides Mumbai, Delhi, Lucknow, Ahmedabad and Agra, Headley also visited Pune and Kochi.
The inclusion of Kochi is significant beacause of Lashkar's plan to target tourist destinations, while Pune should ring a bell because of the intercepted email echange between Headley and a Lashkar leader where he was told that a city close to Mumbai could be the target.
Sources in the home ministry said India would move US for extradition of Headley and Rana in January after FBI files its report against Headley in a US court. The authorities are hopeful of a positive response because Headley and Rana have been charged with using US soil to target India and Denmark.
As a step towards that end, the National Investigating Agency lodged a case against them on Wednesday evening.
The decision was taken in view of the growing belief of agencies here that Headley, who visited India several times on his US passport (097536400), provided specific details of targets to the 10 terrorists who savaged Mumbai last year. The precision with which Ajmal Kasab and other members of the Lashkar gang went about executing their macabre plan at different Mumbai locations has been an abiding puzzle for investigators.
Investigations also show his arrest could be particularly crucial for New Delhi, where he put up at two budget hotels -- De Holiday Inn and Anand in Paharganj -- the popular destination of backpackers. Headley came to Delhi from Abu Dhabi on March 7, 2009 and utilized his three-day stay to gather details on potential targets such as the National Defence College, as brought out by FBI. The inclusion of the college -- a tempting target because of the absence of any security worth speaking of -- for the planned Lashkar attacks was at Headley's insistence.
On 26/11, no sooner than the terrorists reached the Mumbai coast in an inflatable dinghy, they divided themselves five groups, each heading for specific assignments with an ease that pointed to a degree of familiarity with the targets. Investigators never believed that this could have been possible merely with the help of the sketches drawn by Fahim Ansari or details provided by Mohammad Sabauddin, another local Lashkar accomplice. The location of Chabad House, the Jewish centre that was attacked on the fateful evening, is inconspicuous even for an average Mumbaikar.
Incidentally, when Headley was arrested, the FBI recovered from him a copy of a book -- How To Pray Like a Jew -- indicating the level of preparation he undertook while visiting his targets. Headley might have carried this book even when he was in Mumbai for a recce of Chabad House.
The swiftness with which the 26/11 terrorists took the elevator in Hotel Trident to reach the top floor where they set up a control centre, has been seen as further evidence of the briefing they must have got. Investigators suspect that Headley might turn out to be the missing link.
The FBI affidavit underscores the fact that he had an eye for detail and was capable of meticulous planning. It mentions how the US-based Lashkar jehadi, who ditched his name Daood Gilani in 2006 for the one that he sports now, had drawn an elaborate plan to target the office of the Danish newspaper, Jyllands Posten, that had published cartoons of Prophet Mohammad.
In a short visit to the newspaper's Copenhagen office, Headley did not leave out anything which was crucial to the plot -- from the nature of security and surveillance at the newspaper's office to his getaway plan.
It turns out that he may have shown the same diligence while gathering details that Lashkar used for the 26/11 atrocity. He had an elaborate cover -- a US national with a Western sounding name offering innocuous immigration services from a regular location, 29/31 AC Market, Tardeo. He even hired a thoroughbred Mumbai woman as his secretary to complete the pretence. He took great care to avoid detection. He did not use landline for 'important' conversations, and there is no trace of the mobile phone that he is believed to have used.
Importantly, Headley used the cover of immigration service as the front also for the Denmark plot, posing as an employee of Rana's Chicago-based World Immigration Service.
The investigation is crucial also because it marks a blow to Pakistan's defiant refusal to proceed against Lashkar. The FBI finding about their links to al-Qaida and their plot against the Danish newspaper have also repudiated Pakistan's lie that Lashkar is focused only on J&K.
The agency established the link between Ilyas Kashmiri, a terrorist who figures quite high on the US's 'wanted' list, and Lashkar.
While the Americans have been taking a closer look at Lashkar, especially since 26/11, the estimate here is that they may press Pakistan for action against Kashmiri, as well as Anwar Saeed and Sajid Mir -- who are believed to be the Lashkar leaders mentioned in the FBI affidavit against Headley and Rana.