26/11: LeT terrorist Headley gets 'mere' 35 years in jail
CHICAGO: Pakistani-American LeT terrorist David Headley, who "unquestionably contributed" to the Mumbai attacks that claimed 166 lives, has been sentenced to 35 years in prison by the Chicago Court. He was being given linent punishment as he had cooperated with the authorities in their investigations. Meanwhile, media reports say that Headley was asked whether he was sorry for what he did, he replied that he was not.
Giving his order, US District Judge Harry D Leinenweber said "He commits crime, cooperates and then gets rewarded for the cooperation.
"No matter what I do it is not going to deter terrorists. Unfortunately. Terrorists do not care for it. I do not have any faith in Mr Headley when he says that he is a changed person now.
"I do believe that it is my duty to protect the public from Mr Headley and ensure that he does not get into any further terrorist activities. Recommending 35 years is not a right sentence.
"I will accept the government motion 35 years and sentence of 35 years and supervised release for life".
A week back, Judge Leinenweber had sentenced 52-year-old Headley's school time friend, Tahawwur Rana, for 14 years of imprisonment followed by three years of supervised release for providing material support to LeT and planning terrorist attack against a Danish newspaper in Copenhagen.
Under a plea bargain, death sentence for Headley was already knocked down. But many were left surpised when the US prosecutors did not seek life sentence for Headley.
Headley was sentenced on 12 counts. Those included conspiracy to aid the Pakistani group Lashkar-e-Taiba, which mounted the attacks on the landmark Taj Mahal Hotel and other targets.
Both Headley and Rana were arrested in 2009. Headley was small-time narcotics dealer turned US's Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) informer who went rogue.
US government was seeking a lighter 30-35 years' jail term for him as he provided "valuable" information about the militant outfit. 52-year-old Headley, who was arrested by the FBI in October 2009 at the Chicago airport on his way to Pakistan for meetings with top terrorist leaders including Illyas Kashmiri, had pleaded guilty to his role in the 26/11 attacks in 2008.
In its pre-sentencing memorandum, the US government has justified its decision to seek 30-35 years of imprisonment, which seems lighter considering the fact that prosecutors had sought 30 years of imprisonment for his childhood pal Tahawwur Rana for providing material support to Lashkar-e-Taiba.
Arguing that Headley provided valuable information about terrorist outfits like LeT and their leaders, the US government notified the Chicago court of the agreement it had with Headley, under which they would neither seek death penalty nor extradite him to India, Pakistan or Denmark.
"While there is no question that his criminal conduct was deplorable, his decision to cooperate, and the uniquely significant value that cooperation has provided to the government's efforts to combat terrorism, support the government's recommendation," it said in its submission before the Chicago court on Tuesday through Gary S Shapiro, the Acting United States Attorney.
Meanwhile, all eyes are on US District Judge Harry D Leinenweber -- who last week sentenced Rana to 14 years of imprisonment followed by three years of supervised release.
In its pre-sentencing memorandum, the US government said said Headley, who "unquestionably contributed" to the Mumbai attacks, played an essential role in the planning of the horrific terrorist strikes, adding that his advance surveillance in India contributed to the deaths of innocent men, women and children.
"Undeterred by the shocking images of death and destruction that came out of Mumbai in November 2008, Headley travelled to Denmark less than two months later to advance a plan to commit another terrorist attack," Shapiro said.
"Headley not only worked at the direction of Lashkar-e- Taiba for years, but also with members of al-Qaeda. There is little question that life imprisonment would be an appropriate punishment for Headley's incredibly serious crimes but for the significant value provided by his immediate and extensive cooperation," the US attorney said.
The Pakistani-American's cooperation assisted the US Government in filing criminal charges against at least seven other individuals, including his handler Sajid Mir -- a senior Let militant who was one of the main architects of the Mumbai attacks and acted as one of the controllers providing directions to the 10 attackers, and his testimony helped secure the conviction of Rana, the US attorney said.
"Headley cooperated with foreign law enforcement, answering questions without restriction from Indian law enforcement over the course of seven full days, and the government expects his cooperation to extend well into the future," the American government said.
In addition, it said, Headley provided extensive details about Lashkar-e-Taiba, including its organisational structure, leadership and other members, recruiting methods, fundraising methods, training methods, planning of attacks and potential targets. He also provided extensive details about Ilyas Kashmiri and his network.