Sebastian Rotella / ProPublica & Press TV – 2010-10-19 01:04:43
WASHINGTON (October 16, 2010,) — Federal officials acknowledged Saturday that David Coleman Headley, the US businessman who confessed to being a terrorist scout in the 2008 Mumbai attacks, was working as a DEA informant while he was training with terrorists in Pakistan.
Federal officials, who spoke only only on background because of the sensitivity of the Headley case, also said they suspect a link between Headley and the al Qaeda figures whose activities have sparked recent terror threats against Europe.
The revelations came after a report Friday  by ProPublica and the Washington Post that the FBI had been warned about Headley’s terrorist ties three years before the Mumbai attacks. Headley wasn’t arrested until 11 months after the attack.
After Headley was arrested in a 2005 domestic dispute in New York City, his wife told federal investigators about his long involvement with the terrorist group Lashkar-i-Taiba and his extensive training in its Pakistani camps. She also told them he had bragged about being a paid US informant while undergoing terrorist training.
Despite a federal inquiry into the tip, Headley spent the next four years doing terrorist reconnaissance around the world. Between 2006 and 2008, he did five spying missions in Mumbai scouting targets for the attack by Lashkar that killed 166 people, including six Americans.
On Saturday, the New York Times reported that another of Headley’s wives — he apparently was married to three women at the same time — had also warned US officials about his terrorism involvement. In December 2007, the Moroccan woman met with officials at the US embassy in Pakistan and told them about Headleyâ€™s friendship with Lashkar members, his hatred of India and her trips with him to the Taj Mahal Hotel, a prime target of the Mumbai attacks, the Times reported.
On Saturday federal officials said the women’s tips lacked specificity.
“US authorities took seriously what Headley’s former wives said,” a senior administration official said. “Their information was of a general nature and did not suggest any particular terrorist plot.”
Similarly, a federal official described the 2005 tip from Headleyâ€™s U.S. wife to the Joint Terrorism Task Force in New York City as â€œgeneral in nature.â€
“The JTTF could not link the information to a specific threat, plot or terrorist group,” the official said.
A different picture emerges from a law enforcement document describing the New York tip and from interviews with anti-terror officials and a person close to the case. Headley’s US wife described her husband’s frequent trips to Pakistan, his training stints at a Lashkar camp near Muzaffarabad, and his recruiting and fund-raising for Lashkar.
Although the claims of an angry spouse might be suspect, the wifeâ€™s in-depth knowledge of Lashkar would have reinforced her credibility, because the Pakistani extremist group is not well known to the average American.
Headley is the son of a Pakistani father and an American mother. He became a DEA informant in the late 1990s, after he was arrested on heroin charges. His US wife told investigators that he told her that he started training with Lashkar in early 2002 as part of a secret mission for the US government. On Saturday, a federal official said Headley’s work as an informant appears to have lasted until sometime between 2003 and 2005.
Another federal official said Headley was a DEA informant in â€œthe early 2000â€™s.â€
“I couldn’t say it continued into 2005, but he was definitely an informant post-9/11,” the official said.
Although Lashkar has not been involved in major drug activity, the terrorist group could offer an informant access to the terrain where Islamic extremism intertwines with South Asian drug mafias.
Because of the difficulty of spying in Pakistan, Headley could have been valuable to U.S. intelligence services. In late 2001, some drug informants moved into anti-terror operations. The DEA also sometimes shares informants with other law enforcement and intelligence agencies.
“After 9/11, a lot of guys who had been closed down for some time came forward offering their services,” a former senior law enforcement official said. “They were passed off to the FBI or CIA unless it was mainly drug work.”
Headley’s relationship with the US government is especially delicate because the investigation has shown that he also had contact with suspected Pakistani intelligence officials and a Pakistani militant named Ilyas Kashmiri, who has emerged as a top operational leader of al Qaeda.
Last year, Kashmiri worked with Headley on a plot against a Danish newspaper that had angered Muslims by publishing cartoons of the Prophet Mohamed, according to court documents. To advance the plot, Kashmiri put Headley in touch with al Qaeda operatives in Britain, according to a senior anti-terror official.
British intelligence detected the meetings between the operatives, who were under surveillance, and Headley, who surfaced as a figure known as â€œDavid the American,â€ the senior official said. That led to Headleyâ€™s arrest by the FBI last October.
In March, Headley pleaded guilty to charges of terrorism in the Mumbai attacks and to a failed plot to take and behead hostages at a Danish newspaper. He is cooperating with authorities.
Kashmiri’s network has played a central role in sparking the recent US alert about intelligence that al Qaeda is plotting “Mumbai-style attacks” in Europe, US officials told ProPublica.
â€œKashmiri is directly linked to those threats, especially involving Britain and British Pakistanis,â€ the federal official said Saturday. â€œThere is some linkage to Headley.â€
For weeks, US anti-terror officials have been alarmed about intelligence that Kashmiri has a network in Europe of about 15 operatives with Western passports, according to two US law enforcement officials. Headley had contact with Kashmiris network, but it is not clear if he met with the same European operatives involved in the recent plots, the officials said.
‘FBI Knew of Mumbai Attacks in Advance’
TEHERAN (Oct 16, 2010) — A report published by the Washington Post on Wednesday said that the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) had been tipped off in 2005 about an American national, who masterminded attacks on the Indian financial hub three years later.
The man identified as David Coleman Headley underwent intensive training with banned militant groups in Pakistan, the report added.
Based on the report, Headley’s wife told FBI agents that her husband was in close contact with Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), the group blamed by India for the deadly attacks on Mumbai.
The report also says Headley went to Mumbai five times to scout landmark locations and targets for the attack on the city.
The report comes months after the Pakistani interior ministry suggested that the Mumbai attack were planned outside Pakistan.
“An initial probe conducted by a three-member team set up by the Interior Ministry has concluded that the 26/11 attacks were planned outside Pakistan,” Pakistan’s Dawn News quoted unnamed sources as saying in 2009.
The British intelligence service, MI5, however, had earlier said that it had uncovered links between the terrorists involved in the Mumbai attacks and UK nationals.
“We have looked at individuals’ communications, where they have been and so on and found they have got connections with most countries including the UK…,” said MI5 Director General Jonathan Evans in early January 2009.
Pakistan has rejected the involvement of its government in the attacks, saying that “non-state actors” were involved in the incident.
Relations between the nuclear-armed neighbors have soured since the incident.
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