Accused terrorist bridged two different worlds

AP News
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Posted: Dec 08, 2009 6:31 PM

Part American and part Pakistani, the Chicago man accused of conspiring in the bloody terrorist attacks in Mumbai has followed a twisted trail through two different worlds.

David Coleman Headley grew up in two countries and ended up with two names. A troubled young man, he dropped out of school, was convicted of heroin smuggling and ended up broke and jobless.

But it was in a bleak apartment on Chicago's North Side where prosecutors say Headley emerged with a secret identity _ an international terrorist accused of helping plan the November 2008 attacks in Mumbai, India, that left 166 dead.

"Call me old-fashioned, but I feel disposed towards violence for the offending parties," Headley allegedly wrote on a Web site, referring to people he believed had defiled the sacred name of Islam. He was angered by a Danish newspaper that featured a series of cartoons, one showing the Prophet Muhammad with a bomb in his turban.

"They never started debates with folks who slandered our Prophet, they took violent action," Headley wrote, according to federal court documents. "Even if God doesn't give us the opportunity to bring our intentions to fruition, we will claim ajr (a religious award) for it."

Headley was charged Monday with conspiring in the planning of the November 2008 attacks. Prosecutors accused him of scouting out targets, including the Taj Mahal and Oberoi hotels, the Leopold Cafe, a landmark called Nariman House and a large railroad station, all of which were struck by terrorists.

The 49-year-old Headley was scheduled to appear in federal court Wednesday. He could get the death penalty if convicted. Authorities in Washington say he is cooperating with the government.

Headley also is charged with planning an armed attack on the Danish newspaper, Jyllands-Posten, which published a dozen cartoons in 2005 that depicted the Prophet Muhammad and set off protests in the Muslim world.

According to the government, Headley dubbed the cartoon-related attack "the Mickey Mouse project." His attorneys have declined to comment.

Headley grew up both in the United States and Pakistan, the son of an American mother and a Pakistani father. By his teen years, he already had developed strong feelings about Islam, according to Lorenzo Lacovara, who helped Headley's mother open a bar in Philadelphia in the 1970s.

"He was all full of himself and thought that Islam was the greatest thing since sliced bread. He was full of contempt," Lacovara says. "He was fully convinced that it was the 14th century and that it was time for Islam to take over the world. It sounded a lot like teenage bravado, but I think he became a lot more serious."

Headley's interest led him to terrorist training camps operated by Lashkar-e-Taiba _ Army of the Pure in Urdu _ a group focused on the decades-old friction between India and Pakistan over the disputed territory of Kashmir. Prosecutors say Headley repeatedly attended the camps to learn terrorist tradecraft.

Prosecutors say Headley got marching orders from Lashkar-e-Taiba in 2005 to do surveillance for the group in India.

Soon after he was given the assignment, he changed his name from Daood Gilani to David Coleman Headley to "present himself in India as an American who was neither Muslim nor Pakistani," according to court documents.

Headley took photos and made videotapes of the targets that were attacked in Mumbai by 10 terrorists trained by Lashkar, prosecutors say.

After each surveillance trip between September 2006 and July 2008, the government says, he allegedly returned to Pakistan, met with co-conspirators to review the photos and other documents, and provided oral descriptions of the targets.

While traveling the world, Headley posed as an employee of a Chicago-based company, First World Immigration Services.

The owner of the company, 48-year-old Tahawwur Hussain Rana, is charged with providing material support to terrorists in the planned attack on the Danish newspaper. Prosecutors say he made travel arrangements for Headley and allowed him to use the company name.

Rana has pleaded not guilty and his attorney, Patrick Blegen, says he appears to be an honest businessman who may have been duped by Headley.

Headley was born in 1960 in Washington, where his Pakistani father, Syed Saleem Gilani, worked for Voice of America, according to Headley's half-brother, Danyal Gilani, a public relations officer for Pakistan's prime minister.

The family moved to Pakistan soon after Headley's birth. He and Rana met as teens at the Hasan Abdal Cadet College, a prestigious Pakistani military boarding school outside Islamabad. A highly disciplined, traditional atmosphere prevailed among the neat red brick buildings and manicured grounds.

The two men entered in 1974, but administrators say Headley left after three years to live with his mother, Serrill Headley, in the United States, after his parents divorced. Rana completed the five-year term.

In the 1970s, Headley worked at a bar his mother opened in Philadelphia's Old City neighborhood called the Khyber Pass Pub.

Lacovara, the man who helped her open it, said that even though Headley's interest in Islam was plainly growing during his teenage years, he did not seem intent on violence. But he did seem troubled.

"He felt that (his mother) had abandoned him when she left Pakistan," Lacovara said.

Few if any traces of Headley remain in Philadelphia. At one point, he and his mother opened a video store, but it has long since closed. Serrill Headley closed the bar in 1988, but it has since reopened. She died last year.

According to Danyal Gilani, the family in Pakistan had little contact with Headley after he left for the United States.

In 1998, Headley _ using the name Gilani _ was convicted of conspiring to smuggle heroin into the U.S. He was sentenced to 15 months in prison.

"In fact because of his involvement with issues related to drugs, my father wanted the rest of the family to stay away from his influence," Gilani said in a statement. "His having another name or changing his name at some stage in life has come as a surprise to me."

Gilani says his half-brother has a Pakistani wife and four children. A neighbor says they moved into a three-story apartment building about a year ago. He also says he last saw Headley when he visited Pakistan a few days after their father died last December.

Both Rana and Headley occasionally worshipped on Fridays at Jame Masjid of Chicago, sometimes heading around the corner to Zum Zum, a sweet shop where men in the neighborhood often gather to talk politics and cricket over samosas and chai.

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Associated Press writers Mike Robinson and Sophia Tareen in Chicago, Patrick Walters in Philadelphia, Kim Gamel in Islamabad and Larry Neumeister in New York contributed to this report.