PJ Media

A Terrorist in the Heart of America

Last month I warned Pajamas Media readers that a Chicago-area man was involved in the worst act of terrorism to hit India in modern times. This month the Department of Justice indicted David Headley on 12 charges related to the Mumbai terror attacks and plans he and accomplices had in the works against a Danish newspaper that had printed controversial images of the prophet Muhammad. Six of those charges are for the murder of Americans abroad.

Headley has plead not guilty to the charges, but his lawyers claim he is cooperating with the FBI. Indian officials claim they also will charge Headley and have expressed an interest in extraditing him.

The Mumbai terror attacks rank as one of the most sophisticated operations ever run by a terrorist organization. It involved ten men who arrived by sea, worked in teams, and hit at least ten targets nearly simultaneously. Leaders of the terrorist group Lashkar-e-Taiba kept in constant contact with the attackers from Pakistan, directing them who to kill and giving them words of encouragement. When the last of the attackers was killed at the Taj Mahal Palace hotel three days after the carnage began, over 173 people were dead and another 308 wounded.

This gruesome act of terror was clearly well-planned. At least some of that planning was done by Chicago resident David Headley.

Davide Headley was born Daood Gilani in Washington, D.C., to a Pakistani father and an American mother. When the young Daood’s parents divorced he moved to Pakistan with his father and attended an elite military academy. His mother eventually gained legal custody and he moved to Philadelphia where he bounced around in a number of low-level jobs. Apparently not satisfied with a life of poverty, he became involved in a scheme to smuggle heroin from Pakistan. This landed him in jail for 15 months after a 1998 conviction. Published reports claim that the short sentence was due to his cooperation with the Drug Enforcement Administration (he is said to have become an informant).

He was granted special permission by the supervising court to travel to Pakistan while still on probation. This move has sparked widespread speculation abroad that he was on the Drug Enforcement Administration’s payroll. It has flamed the fire of conspiracy theorists, who have taken to calling Headley a “double agent” and an “agent gone rogue.” But there is no evidence that Headley was anything more than an informant wishing to reduce his sentence.

And cooperate he must have, because his court supervision was cut short only a few months after 9/11 — three years before his probation was set to end.

It is not clear at what point Headley became radicalized and committed to violent jihad. It should be remembered that he attended a military academy with close ties to the Pakistani establishment. Growing up he would have been taught that India had no right to Kashmir, a majority Muslim region which Pakistan also claims as its own. Paramilitary organizations fighting against India in Kashmir were largely sponsored by the Pakistani government and military. The leap from troubled youth to supporting Lashkar-e-Taiba, which was involved with state sponsorship up until recently in the Kashmir conflict, is not as great as might be imagined.

The federal indictment against Headley indicates that he began attending Lashkar-e-Taiba terrorist training camps as early as February 2002. This was only three months after Headley had been released early from his probation.

At some point over the next three years Headley became a trusted agent of the Lashkar-e-Taiba leadership. He was told that he would be going to India in order to gather information about possible targets for attack.

In early 2006 he legally changed his name from Daood Gilani to David Headley, taking on his mother’s maiden name. Headley’s intended to do a lot of traveling in his work for the Pakistani terror organization. With an English-sounding name on a U.S. passport you can travel virtually anywhere without raising unwanted suspicion.

Headley may have also used connections from the military academy he attended in Pakistan to bypass the normal scrutiny a convicted felon would receive when applying for a visa.

At about the same time, Headly began conspiring with a Canadian citizen who lived in Chicago named Tahawwur Rana. Headley used Rana’s First World Immigration Services as a cover for his international travel. It was on this pretext that Headley opened an office for First World in Mumbai.

But Headley was not in Mumbai to recruit high-tech labor for Silicon Valley. He was in Mumbai on a reconnaissance mission for his terrorist handlers.

Armed with his new name, a U.S. passport, and a cover story in which he sometimes passed himself off as Jewish, Headley spent the next two years scouting locations in and around Mumbai as possible targets. Camera and video tape in hand, he visited each and every target attacked in the Mumbai massacre. According to the indictment against him: “Following each trip to India, Headley returned to Pakistan … and provided the results of his surveillance, including photographs, videos, and oral descriptions of various locations.” Headley also took boat rides along the coast scouting out possible locations for the amphibious assault.

If all of the allegations laid out in the federal indictment against Headley are true, then an American citizen was involved in the planning stages of India’s 9/11. How deeply he was involved in the planning is not known. At the very least, he had prior knowledge that attacks were coming and that the targets would all be centers of civilian activity.

But Headley was more than a Lashkar-e-Taiba scout. Headley was also a terrorist entrepreneur. The charges against him also include a plot to attack Denmark’s Jylland Posten newspaper as “revenge” for printing cartoons of the Muslim prophet Mohammad. This plot appears to have been Headley’s own brain child. When his handlers at Lashkar rejected the plot, Headley shopped the idea around, contacting the wanted terrorist Ilyas Kashmiri and his al-Qaeda-linked Harakat-ul Jihad Islami group for backing.

Headley’s is only one case among many in a disturbing trend of American citizens involved in international terrorism. Just last week, five Americans — three of whom were born in the U.S. — were arrested in Pakistan as they attempted to join terror organizations. The list grows longer and longer each week: Najibullah Zazi and Betim Kaziu in New York, Tarek Mehanna and Ahmad Abousamra in Boston, and a ring of seven more in North Carolina — each involved in a plot to commit acts of terrorism overseas.

Add the names of the Fort Hood killer Nidal Hasan and several other Americans arrested this year involved in plots to attack targets in the U.S., and a clear pattern of homegrown terrorism emerges. Once thought of as a phenomenon in the West found only in Europe and somehow related to large numbers of Muslim ghettos and a poor record of assimilation, it is now clear that something else is to blame — namely, political Islam.  Until we are willing to take on the root ideology spawning the vast majority of terrorism in the world today, then we should expect to find more and more Americans involved in transnational terrorism.

Also, don’t be surprised if the next attack on the scale of 9/11 is hatched in the American Midwest.