Will former US government informant face terror charges in India?

David Headley
A former United States government informant, who helped an Islamist militant group plan the 2008 Mumbai attacks in India, has been sentenced to 35 years in prison. David Coleman Headley, a former US Drug Enforcement Administration informant, was arrested by the Federal Bureau of Investigation in 2009 for helping to plot an attack by Islamist radicals on a Danish newspaper. It eventually became apparent that Headley had been a member of Pakistani militant group Lashkar e-Taiba and had also helped plan the 2008 attacks in the Indian city of Mumbai. The terrorist plot involved at least a dozen attacks on tourist and other civilian targets in India’s largest city, conducted by small cells of highly trained LeT members who had arrived from Pakistan by boat. The coordinated attacks, which began on November 26 and ended three days later, killed 164 and wounded over 300 people. According to the FBI, Headley, who was born to a Pakistani father and an American mother, took advantage of his Western manners and physique to travel to Mumbai posing as an American tourist, in order to help map out the LeT operation. On Thursday, a court in Chicago sentenced Headley to 35 years in prison. Prior to his sentencing, Headley had pleaded guilty to all 12 counts brought against him by US prosecutors and is said to be cooperating with authorities —which is reportedly why he was spared the death penalty. However, the question in the minds of many terrorism observers is, will Headley be extradited to India to face charges there for what is often referred to as ‘India’s 9/11’? The answer is not so simple. IntelNews readers may recall that, in 2009, US officials denied Indian investigators access to Headley. Intelligence commentators were surprised by the US move at the time in light the close security ties between Washington and New Delhi. It now appears that part of Headley’s deal with US government prosecutors is that he will cooperate in return for not being extradited to India. Although the US has said it intends to honor the agreement, the Indian government has vowed to continue to press for Headleys’ extradition. Legal scholars claim that Headley could be extradited to India only if he were to violate the terms of his plea agreement with US authorities. At that point, the Pakistani-American would be subject to existing extradition treaties between the US and India. Until then, however, he is to remain firmly on US soil. Meanwhile, the consistent refusal of US officials to allow Indian interrogators access to Headley has sparked countless rumors in India —admittedly a country that is especially fond of conspiracy theories. One such theory is that Headley may be a former agent of the Central Intelligence Agency and that the Americans are shielding their secrets by rejecting Indian requests to meet with him.

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