American prosecutors may seek a lesser sentence for Lashkar-e-Tayiba operative David Headley -- under a plea agreement the latter has clinched with the Federal Bureau of Investigation -- at the sentencing of the Pakistani-American terrorist in a United States court on Thursday.
However, if Headley is found guilty of terror-related crimes in an Indian court, he could face a life sentence or even the death penalty.
Headley’s sentencing by an Indian court will be merely symbolic as it is unlikely that he will ever be extradited. Under the plea bargain, he cannot be extradited to India despite his role in planning the 26/11 attack, which was outlined by the National Investigation Agency in its charge-sheet.
“A terror strike of that magnitude would not have been possible without Headley’s help and we are hopeful that he will be awarded the maximum punishment,” said a NIA official.
In India, Headley has been charged with murder, criminal conspiracy and waging war against the State. All these charges are punishable by life imprisonment or the death penalty.
“Irrespective of the court ruling in the United States, we will still go ahead and seek the maximum punishment for Headley, even though it will be merely symbolic,” said the official.
An NIA official, who was part of the team which questioned Headley, said that the LeT operative had admitted to his role in planning the carnage during the interrogation.
“Although a lenient view is usually taken when a person makes a confession, Headley showed absolutely no remorse. He was proud of what he had done and was often abusive. His hatred towards Indians was apparent,” revealed the official.
Headley had told the NIA that he had joined the LeT after seeing a publicity poster of the extremist outfit in Pakistan. He had donated Rs 50,000 to the terror group and had wanted to wage a war against India. In 2005, LeT leaders told him that his chance to do so had finally come.
The manner in which Headley managed to visit India five times and recorded videos of likely terror targets is common knowledge.
He then returned to Pakistan with the videos and handed them over to Major Iqbal of the Inter Services Intelligence. He also discussed his plans to strike terror in Mumbai with fellow LeT operative Sajid Mir.
NIA officials point out that Headley’s vendetta against India did not end with the Mumbai attack. He had surveyed several targets in Delhi and Pune to carry out similar terror strikes. They add that the charges slapped on Headley by the NIA and the ones pressed by the FBI are similar.
Since Headley’s extradition is near impossible, the NIA will seek to try him through video conferencing.
“If other options fail, we will try Headley in absentia and convict him in a similar manner,” said a NIA official.
The investigative agency will also try to question Headley and his accomplice Tawahur Rana one more time.
“This time, we will focus the questions on other LeT members to gather information about the operations of the Lashkar. We will also ask him about the other targets he surveyed to ward off future attacks against them. Also, Headley had refused to answer questions about his local contacts last time,” said the official.
The NIA has already issued Red Corner Notices against seven terror operatives -- Hafiz Saeed, Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi, Abdur Rehman Hashim, Sajid Majid, Major Iqbal, Major Sameer Ali and Illyas Kashmiri.