Chicago man pleads not guilty in attacks

AP News
Posted: Dec 09, 2009 4:39 PM

A Chicago man pleaded not guilty Wednesday to charges that he conspired in the November 2008 terrorist attacks in the Indian city of Mumbai that left 166 people dead.

At an arraignment that lasted about three minutes, 49-year-old David Coleman Headley pleaded not guilty to all 12 counts against him, including charges that he also planned a terrorist attack on a Danish newspaper. He could get the death penalty if convicted of the most serious charge.

Headley told U.S. District Judge Harry D. Leinenweber that he understood the charges and was waiving any indictment in the case. He was charged Monday in a legal document called a criminal information, which typically signals a plea deal.

After entering his plea, Headley was led away by a phalanx of marshals.

Headley is accused of making five trips to Mumbai and conducting surveillance on the Taj Mahal and Oberoi hotels, a landmark called Nariman House and a large train station, all of which were struck by terrorists.

Prosecutors say he answered to the Pakistan-based militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba, whose operations are mainly focused on the long-running friction between Pakistan and India over the disputed territory of Kashmir.

Authorities in Washington say Headley is cooperating with the government. But his attorneys, John Theis and Robert Seeder, told reporters after the hearing that they would not comment on a possible defense strategy.

"We will not be adding anything to what the government has said," Theis said. He said the defense would review the evidence but would not comment on the substance of the case.

It is the second time in recent years that Theis is representing a witness who is cooperating with the government in a high-profile case.

He was the defense counsel for Nicholas Calabrese, described by federal prosecutors as the only "made" member of the Chicago mob to become a witness. Testimony from Calabrese was instrumental in the government's success in the 2007 Operation Family Secrets trial, the city's biggest mob trial in decades.

Seeder told reporters he was added to Headley's defense team because federal law calls for a second attorney in cases that could result in capital punishment.

Leinenweber gave prosecutors until Jan. 8 to turn over key evidence to the defense attorneys. He set a status hearing for Jan. 12.

Headley was arrested by FBI agents at O'Hare International Airport on Oct. 3 as he was about to board a plane for Philadelphia. The government says he was believed to be headed to Pakistan afterward to confer with collaborators.

Two other men have been charged in the case.

Chicago businessman Tahawwur Hussain Rana, 48, a Pakistani-born Canadian national, is charged with providing material support to terrorists in the planned attack on the Danish newspaper. The paper, Jyllands-Posten, published a dozen cartoons in 2005 that depicted the Prophet Muhammad and set off protests in the Muslim world.

Prosecutors say Rana, the owner of an immigration service, made travel arrangements for Headley as he moved around the world to plan the Denmark attack. Rana and Headley were once schoolmates.

A retired major in the Pakistani military, Abdur Rehman Hashim Syed, is charged separately with coordinating surveillance on the Danish newspaper. His whereabouts are uncertain.