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Headley pleads guilty to Mumbai terror charges

To avoid a possible death sentence and extradition to India, Pakistani American terror suspect David Coleman Headley has pleaded guilty to a dozen federal terrorism charges, admitting his role in planning the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks.

In pleading guilty Thursday to all 12 counts that were brought against him in December and were repeated in a subsequent indictment in January, Headley, 49, admitted that he attended training camps in Pakistan operated by Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), a designated foreign terrorist organisation, on five separate occasions between 2002 and 2005.

Prosecutors said in late 2005, Headley received instructions from three members of LeT to travel to India to conduct surveillance.

Son of a Pakistani father and an American mother, he changed his name from Daood Gilani in 2006 to visit India five times to scout targets for the Nov 26 Mumbai attacks that killed 164 people including six Americans.

Appearing before US District Judge Harry Leinenweber in Federal Court here, Headley dressed in an orange jump suit with his hands and legs shackled also pleaded guilty to planning an attack on a Danish newspaper that had published cartoons lampooning the Prophet Mohammad.

At Thursday's hearing Headley pleaded guilty to conspiracy to bomb public places in India; conspiracy to murder and maim persons in India; six counts of aiding and abetting the murder of US citizens in India; conspiracy to provide material support to terrorism in India; conspiracy to murder and maim persons in Denmark; conspiracy to provide material support to terrorism in Denmark; and conspiracy to provide material support to Lashkar.

Headley's co-accused, Tahawwur Hussain Rana, 49, a Pakistani-Canadian living in Chicago, was indicted in January on three counts of conspiracy to provide material support to the Mumbai attacks; conspiracy to provide material support to the Denmark plot; and providing material support to Lashkar.

He has pleaded not guilty and remains in federal custody in Chicago while awaiting trial.

Headley, Prosecutors said has cooperated with the Government since he was arrested on Oct 3, 2009, and the plea agreement states that he "has provided substantial assistance to the criminal investigation, and also has provided information of significant intelligence value."

In light of Headley's past cooperation and expected future cooperation, the Attorney General Eric Holder has authorised the US Attorney in Chicago not to seek the death penalty against Headley, prosecutors said.

Provided that Headley continues to provide full and truthful cooperation, prosecutors will seek possibly a life sentence, which will be solely up to the Court to decide.

"When directed by the US Attorney's office, Headley must fully and truthfully participate in any debriefings for the purpose of gathering intelligence or national security information," they said.

Headley has also agreed that, "when directed by the United States Attorney's Office, he will fully and truthfully testify in any foreign judicial proceedings held in the United States by way of deposition, video-conferencing or letters rogatory."

"Today's guilty plea is a crucial step forward in our efforts to achieve justice for the more than 160 people who lost their lives in the Mumbai terrorist attacks. Working with our domestic and international partners, we will not rest until all those responsible for the Mumbai attacks and the terror plot in Denmark are held accountable," Holder said.

"Not only has the criminal justice system achieved a guilty plea in this case, but David Headley is now providing us valuable intelligence about terrorist activities. As this case demonstrates, we must continue to use every tool available to defeat terrorism both at home and abroad." (IANS)

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