A Mumbai court on Thursday pardoned Pakistani-American Lashkar-e-Tayiba operative David Headley, who had surveyed targets for the 26/11 attacks, and made him an approver in the case, a move that may unravel the conspiracy behind the brazen terror assault.
"Accused David Headley is tendered pardon as per section 307 of Code of Criminal Procedure... Headley would be the prosecution witnesses in the case," said the judge G A Sanap.
Headley will depose through video conference on February 8.
The court added that pardon was being granted on the condition that he would reveal "every fact".
"He shall reveal all true facts leading to the conspiracy of terror attacks and also details of all the co-accused involved in this matter and crimes committed in India by him and others as per his knowledge," the judge said.
"If (the prosecution's) application for pardon (for Headley) is rejected, it will be difficult to bring on record the direct and best evidence in the case and hence I am inclined to accept the application," the judge said.
From the order of the US court, which convicted Headley for his role in 26/11 conspiracy, it can be seen that the plan could not have reached its logical end without his involvement, the judge noted, saying this was one of the aspects to be considered while tendering pardon to Headley.
The conspiracy was hatched outside the country and LeT operative and 26/11 key plotter Sayed Zabiuddin Ansari alias Abu Jundal, who is currently facing trial before this court, was Headley's co-conspirator, but there is no direct evidence (against Jundal), the court noted.
"In this case fortunately for prosecution Headley expressed his desire to unfold the larger conspiracy of 26/11 terror attacks hatched outside India. The evidence of co-conspirator like Headley could be of immense importance in case of prosecution. It is very difficult to get such direct evidence and firsthand account of criminal conspiracy," the judge noted.
After hearing the conditions set by the court, Headley, who is undergoing a 35 years prison sentence in the US and who appeared through a video-link from an undisclosed location, said, "Yes, I agree to the conditions."
Earlier in the evening, Headley told the sessions court that he was ready to depose if given pardon.
Special public prosecutor Ujjwal Nikam told the court that the prosecution was agreeable to Headley's offer.
"I have received the charging document filed against me in this court. It charges me with same conduct for which I was charged in the US. I had pleaded guilty to the charges in the US and I admitted that I was participant in these charges," Headley said.
"I accepted responsibility for my role in those offences in my plea agreement (in US). I also agreed to make myself available as a witness in this court. I appear here ready to answer questions regarding these events if I receive a pardon from this court," he said.
Mark Tellitocci, India Desk officer with the Internal affairs office of Department of Justice of the US Government, N K Mishra, Minister (Personal and Community Affairs) in the Indian Embassy at Washington DC, and JS Parmar, Attache (Community Affairs) in the Indian Embassy also appeared in the court through video link from Washington.
Headley, his lawyers Robert Seer and John Tyse, Sarah W, Assistant Trial Attorney with Department of Justice, and FBI agent Raymundo Nagera appeared from an 'undisclosed location'. Jundal was produced through video link from the Arthur Road jail in Mumbai.
Nikam identified Headley for the court.
"The gentleman is David Headley," he said.
The judge Sanap then introduced himself to Headley and asked if he had received the copy of summons.
"You can see my name on summons, the case number is also mentioned in the summons," the judge said.
When the court sought to know the residential address of Headly, Sarah intervened and said that he cannot provide his address.
The judge then proceeded to read out the charges against him and said, "I have taken your custody and I have taken cognisance of the offences (against) you."
When the judge asked if he had been threatened or pressured by any person for giving evidence in the court, Headley replied in the negative.
"I am obliged to testify because of my plea agreement, I am testifying under the pressure of the agreement," said Headley, who was wearing his prison dress.
On November 18, the court had said that Headley must be produced through video conference on December 10 as it allowed the Mumbai police's plea to make him an accused.
The police had said he should be tried by the Mumbai court along with Jundal.
Headley reportedly visited India five times between 2006 and 2008, drew maps, took video footage and scouted several targets for the attacks including the Taj Hotel, Oberoi Hotel and Nariman House.
His reconnaissance provided vital information to the 10 LeT terrorists and their handlers, who launched the attack on November 26, 2008, in which 166 people were killed, including many foreigners.
The Mumbai police, in their application to make him an accused, had said that as per the judgement passed by the US court, it was clear that Headley was a member of LeT and had played an active role in the conspiracy of the attack.
Headley had committed the offences of conspiring with LeT for committing illegal acts in India, waging war against the government of India and offences under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, the police said.
He has also been accused of intentionally aiding and abetting the LeT in Pakistan for committing illegal acts in Mumbai, mischief by fire with intent to destroy Hotel Taj, Oberoi and Nariman House, offences under Explosives Act and Explosives Substances Act as also under the Prevention of Damage to Public Property Act.
Co-conspirator Abu Jundal, a native of Beed district of Maharashtra, was deported from Saudi Arabia in June 2012.
As per the charge sheet, after fleeing Maharashtra, Jundal entered Bangladesh in May 2006, from where he went to Pakistan with the help of ISI. He is also accused of involvement in Aurangabad arms haul case, 2010 German Bakery blast case in Pune, and Nashik police academy attack conspiracy case.
In the 26/11 case, the lone surviving Pakistani gunman Ajmal Kasab was sentenced to death by the Mumbai court and was executed on November 21, 2012.