Defense to question gov't witness in Mumbai case

May 25, 2011 - 4:29 AM
Mumbai Attacks Trial

In this courtroom sketch, Chicago businessman Tahawwur Rana is shown in federal court as the prosecutor makes an opening argument Monday, May 23, 2011, in Chicago. Rana, 50, is accused in the 2008 Mumbai rampage that left more than 160 people dead, and for planning an attack that was never carried out on a Danish newspaper. He pleaded not guilty to the charges, including material support to terrorism. (AP Photo/Tom Gianni)

CHICAGO (AP) — An admitted American terrorist who scouted sites in the deadly 2008 Mumbai attacks is expected to face intense questioning from defense attorneys Wednesday when he returns to the stand as the government's star witness in the trial of a Chicago businessman accused of helping him.

David Coleman Headley's testimony has alleged close coordination between Pakistan's main intelligence agency and militants in the three-day rampage that killed more than 160 people in India's largest city.

Headley, who pleaded guilty in plotting the attacks, is the government's top witness in the trial of Chicago businessman Tahawwur Rana. His testimony also comes at a pivotal moment in U.S.-Pakistan relations, just weeks after Navy SEALs found Osama bin Laden hiding outside Islamabad, raising concerns that Pakistan may have been protecting the world's most wanted terrorist.

Defense attorneys get their first chance to undermine Headley's credibility before jurors on Wednesday. Attorneys for Rana, who is accused of helping Headley establish cover in Mumbai and for another plot in Denmark, have called Headley manipulative and claimed he had other reasons in implicating Rana, his longtime friend.

"Some of the evidence that we expect to come in will show that David Headley absolutely had additional motives, including protecting his wife," Rana attorney Charles Swift told reporters this week. "There's written proof that she knew and there's not going to be that same proof where Dr. Rana's concerned."

Federal prosecutors have guided Headley through days of testimony where he provided rare insight into the web of international terrorism.

Pakistan has deflected the accusations and repeated what it's maintained since 2008: The Inter-Services Intelligence agency, known as ISI, had no links to Lashkar-e-Taiba, the Pakistani-based terrorists who claimed credit for the Mumbai attacks.

The ISI knew about and helped fund and direct the Mumbai plot, Headley said.

A "frogman" in Pakistan's military even helped select a landing site in Mumbai where Lashkar terrorists would arrive by boat, he testified. Headley recalled an instance a few years before the Mumbai plot conception when Lashkar leaders wanted to get signoff from the ISI before making a decision that could have diplomatic consequences with the U.S.

"They coordinated with each other, and ISI provided assistance to Lashkar," Headley said.

Headley, who said he started working with Lashkar in 2000, said the Pakistan-based terror group, and the ISI operate under the same umbrella. As Headley scouted sites for targets in Mumbai, he met regularly and received money from someone he said was an ISI major, known only as "Major Iqbal."

Iqbal and Headley's regular Lashkar contact, Sajid Mir, both gave him the same instructions for where to go and what to scope out, he said. Headley would provide videos he took of sights in Mumbai to Iqbal and then to Mir. Headley said Mir and Iqbal were in contact with each other. Headley has testified that Rana was apprised of all developments and largely approved.

In October 2008, Headley said he and his Lashkar and ISI handlers all met together in Pakistan, about a month before the attacks. During this meeting, the men also talked for the first time about a separate plot to attack a Danish newspaper that in 2005 had printed cartoons of Prophet Muhammad, Headley said. That plot was foiled by law enforcement.

"I suggested we only focus on the cartoonist and the editor," Headley testified of a later meeting with Mir. "He said, 'All Danes are responsible for this.'"

Prosecutors showed emails among the three men — some of them forwarded to Rana — detailing points on the Mumbai attacks and the aftermath.

Defense attorneys have raised issues with Headley's credibility. He reached a plea deal with prosecutors in the terrorism case in exchange for avoiding the death penalty and previously had been an informant for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration after a heroin conviction.

Though Rana is on trial, much of Headley's testimony so far has focused on his dealings with Iqbal, Mir and Abdur Rehman Hashim Syed, identified by prosecutors as a retired Pakistani military with links to Iqbal. All three are charged in absentia.

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Associated Press reporter Chris Brummitt contributed to this story from Islamabad.