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Headley chase, Lashkar conspiracy

By Stephen Tankel

March 10, 2010


The Headley-Rana affair suggests that Lashkar-e-Tayyeba continues to prioritise attacks on India

October 2009 arrest in Chicago of two men charged with plotting attacks in Denmark illustrates Lashkar’s transnational capabilities and the nuanced role they can play in terms of terrorism against India and the West. One of the men arrested was David Headley, (aka Daood Gilani), a Pakistani American who trained with Lashkar during the early part of the decade and changed his name in order to perform surveillance in India. He made multiple extended trips to Mumbai in advance of the 2008 attacks that took place there. During each trip he took pictures and video of various targets, including all of those struck by Lashkar’s fidayeen in November 2008.

After each trip, he allegedly returned to Pakistan where he provided his Lashkar handlers with photographs, videos and oral descriptions of various locations. Headley and his handlers are believed to have discussed potential sites for a seaborne infiltration. US charges allege that Lashkar operatives in Pakistan instructed him to take boat trips in and around the Mumbai harbour and record surveillance video, which he did during a visit to India in April 2008.

According to US Government documents, when Headley returned to Chicago in June 2006 he advised Tahawwur Hussain Rana, a native Pakistani and Canadian citizen living in Chicago, of his assignment. Rana ran First World Immigration Services, and Headley is alleged to have obtained his permission to open a branch office in Mumbai in 2006 as a cover for his surveillance activities. Rana also is alleged to have been in Mumbai prior to the attacks and to have played a role in performing reconnaissance.

A month before Lashkar’s gunmen made deadly use of the surveillance he had provided for the Mumbai attacks, David Headley began planning the “Mickey Mouse Project”. Also called the “Northern Project”, this referred to an attack on facilities of the Morgenavisen Jyllands Posten, the Danish newspaper responsible for printing cartoons in 2005 that depicted the Prophet Mohammed. Headley had taken great offence at their publication, and in October 2008 he set in motion a plan to take revenge. This included travel to Denmark in January and July 2009 for the purpose of reconnaissance, coupled with attack planning in Pakistan following his January trip.

As with his surveillance in India for the Mumbai attacks, Headley also benefited from Tahawwur Hussain Rana’s assistance. Rana provided material support for Headley's travels as well as helping to arrange them and disguise their purpose. Headley was coordinating with at least two Lashkar operatives: Abdul Rehman Hashim Syed, a former Pakistan Army officer who oversaw Lashkar’s networks in Bangladesh, and an individual identified “Lashkar-e-Tayyeba Member A”.

Although the US Government had not disclosed his identity at the time this was written, US and Pakistani officials said that he is Sajid Mir, the former Pakistan Army officer and head of operations for Lashkar’s international wing. Headley was also coordinating with Ilyas Kashmiri, a leader from the militant group Harakat-ul-Jihadal Islami who is known to be very close to the leadership of Al Qaeda.

In an example of the gateway role Lashkar can play, Syed is suspected of introducing Headley to Ilyas Kashmiri. Initially, Lashkar appeared eager to coordinate with Headley on the attacks in Denmark. The prime target was Jyllands Posten, the newspaper that in 2005published controversial cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammed, but Headley also surveilled a nearby synagogue at Sajid Mir’s behest. Yet when the opportunity arose to use Headley for surveillance in India, Mir suggested that he delay the Northern Project in favour of this new assignment. At that point, Headley began working more closely with HuJI to pursue the already planned attacks in Denmark.

He did not, however, bandon his relationship with Lashkar and promised to help with the India operations as well. The group is believed to have been planning to attack the National Defence College on the anniversary of the Mumbai attacks.

-- Extracted from Stephen Tankel’s paper.

Source: The Pioneer, New Delhi.