(MCT) — CHICAGO — When David Coleman Headley was arrested three years ago at O’Hare International Airport, he was headed overseas to help plan a deadly assault on a Danish newspaper less than a year after he played a similar role in the horrific terrorist attack that killed more than 160 people in Mumbai, India’s largest city.
On the same day he was detained, Headley did not hesitate to start talking to U.S. officials, providing information about Lashkar-e-Taiba, the Pakistani-based terror organization behind the Mumbai attacks, and much more.
On Tuesday, two days before his scheduled sentencing, federal prosecutors recognized Headley’s extraordinary cooperation by recommending he be sentenced to 30 to 35 years in prison despite his essential role in the bloody Mumbai rampage.
Headley, now 52, faces up to life in prison at the sentencing at the Dirksen U.S. Courthouse. In pleading guilty to a dozen federal counts, he admitted scouting many of the sites later targeted in the Indian assault in 2008.
In their court papers, prosecutors acknowledged the contrast that U.S. District Judge Harry Leinenweber will have to choose between — an admitted terrorist whose cooperation provided insight into Lashkar’s organization and targets and led to charges against seven others, including Ilyas Kashmiri, a terrorist leader with ties to al-Qaida.
Headley also ended up testifying at the trial of his childhood friend Tahawwur Rana, 52, a Pakistani-born doctor who had moved to Chicago to set up several businesses. Rana was sentenced last week to 14 years in prison for supporting Lashkar and aiding Headley in the aborted plot to behead staffers at the Copenhagen newspaper.
Weighing heavily on the side of a tough penalty for Headley was the chilling nature of the plots as well as the sheer scope of the Mumbai attack in which young gunmen stormed hotels and other buildings. Six Americans were among those killed.
“This is not a wannabe terrorist,” Karen Greenberg, director of the Center on National Security at Fordham University, told the Chicago Tribune Tuesday in a telephone interview. “... Headley is very unusual in terms of prominence inside an international terrorist network.”
Among the Mumbai victims was Chicagoan Sandeep “Sam” Jeswani, who worked for a company that provided radiation to cancer patients and was on business. A Virginian university professor, Alan Scherr, and his daughter, Naomi, 13, were on a spiritual pilgrimage and were eating in a cafe in the Oberoi Hotel when they were killed.
Prosecutors said Andreina Varagona, who was dining with the father and daughter, described the attack this way:
“Two gunmen came running into the packed restaurant, bullets flying ... Naomi was so scared — she just kept screaming and screaming. Her dad, Alan, was desperately trying to calm her.”
Varagona urged them both to play dead as they huddled underneath their table, but she then felt a spray of blood.
“... Naomi’s screams had been stopped too and I saw her lying lifeless beside him. They’d both been shot dead,” Varagona said.