An American convicted of helping plan the 2008 Mumbai terrorist massacre has backed claims that Pakistan was heavily involved in the attack.
David Headley, who pleaded guilty in a US court to laying the groundwork for the attack, told Indian interrogators that officers from Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency were deeply intertwined with the Lashkar-e-Taiba group responsible for the killings .
The attack left 166 people dead, paralysed India’s business capital and froze peace efforts between Pakistan and India.
The Pakistani spy agency provided handlers for all the top members of the group, gave them direction and provided their funding, Headley said, according to records of his interrogation obtained by the Associated Press news agency.
“According to Headley, every big action of LeT co-ordination is done in close co-ordination with ISI,” the report said, using a common abbreviation for Lashkar-e-Taiba.
India has long accused the Pakistan spy service of being involved with, and in some cases directing, terror groups. In July, just weeks after the interrogation, Indian Home Secretary G.K. Pillai caused a row ahead of high-level India-Pakistan talks when he accused the Pakistani agency of orchestrating the Mumbai attacks. He cited Headley as the source of the information.
A senior intelligence official in Pakistan said the allegations were baseless.
US officials have also accused the spy agency of working with the Taliban to co-ordinate attacks on Nato forces in Afghanistan.
In 34 hours of interrogation from June 3 to June 9, Headley described for Indian officials a Lashkar-e-Taiba organisation that was filled with former Pakistani army officers and veterans from the conflicts with India over Kashmir, the report said.
At one Lashkar-e-Taiba training camp, Headley was drilled by a Pakistani army instructor, he said.
Every major official with the group had a handler from the spy agency, most of them majors, colonels and even a brigadier, he told interrogators.
The Indian report describes in detail Headley’s involvement with his handler, whom he identified as Maj. Iqbal, throughout the preparations for the Mumbai attacks.
Iqbal first called Headley in March 2006, and the two of them met, along with Iqbal’s superior, Lt. Col. Hamza, for more than two hours, according to the report. Hamza assigned Iqbal to be Headley’s handler and assured him of financial backing.
Iqbal assigned Headley a trainer to drill him in intelligence basics, including how to cultivate sources and take cover, the report said.
Before Headley’s first scouting trip to India in September 2006, Iqbal gave him 25,000 dollars. He later gave him a camera phone and showed him how to take surveillance videos.
Headley met Iqbal in Pakistan after each of his nine trips to India, debriefed him and gave him copies of the photos and videos he took of potential Indian targets.
Iqbal gave Headley suggestions on how the Mumbai attackers could best reach the city by sea, and asked Headley to conduct some surveillance for him of an atomic research centre in Mumbai and of locations in the city of Pune. They also discussed a plan to attack a Danish newspaper over cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammed.
In return for the cooperation, Iqbal helped Headley after he was taken into custody by the Lahore police on a complaint from one of his wives, the report said.
As the investigation into the Mumbai attacks heated up in 2009 and pressure on the Pakistani government to take action against the accused mounted, Iqbal told Headley they had to cut off contact.
Earlier this month, Interpol – acting on India’s request – notified its members to be on the alert for Maj. Iqbal.
The report came as Mohammed Ajmal Kasab, the only surviving gunman from the attacks, was appealing his death sentence in the Mumbai High Court.
Kasab was one of 10 Pakistanis who attacked two luxury hotels, a Jewish centre and a busy train station during the 60-hour siege.