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Headley's ISI flip-flops: Should India worry?

By Vicky Nanjappa
June 01, 2011 17:36 IST
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Indian felt vindicated when Lashkar-e-Tayiba operative David Coleman Headley testified that the ISI had trained him in terror. But on Tuesday, Headley did a U-turn as he gave a clean chit to Pakistan's spy agency. Hoping to nail the ISI in the 26/11 case, Indian intelligence agencies say that Headley's changing versions come as no surprise to them. Vicky Nanjappa reports. 

Lashkar-e-Tayiba operative David Headley has sprung yet another surprise as he testified during the ongoing trial of his co-accused Tawwahur Rana in the 26/11 case.

On Wednesday, Headley did a turn around that the Indian investigating agencies were expecting. Going soft on the Inter-Services Intelligence, the self-confessed plotter said that the top brass of the spy agency has nothing to with the 26/11 attacks. Only last week he had testified that he received espionage training against India from the ISI.

Indian investigators, who will be visiting the United States in July to interrogate Rana, said that they expected Headley's testimony to be full of twists and turns. "While interrogating Headley we did realise that he was a smart operative and expected him to change versions," said an investigating official. 

However, during his interrogation with both the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the National Investigating Agency, his versions did remain intact. Sources in the NIA said that a chargesheet will be filed on the basis of Headley's confessions to them. However, the final chargesheet will corroborate both Headley and Rana's statements following which the versions would be matched.

"Headley's testimony and versions always raised suspicion and anyone who thought that he was speaking the whole truth and not trying to save his own skin is a fool," said investigators.

Sources with the Indian intelligence said it is next to impossible to believe that only a part of the ISI was in the know of the 26/11 attack. The ISI is a strong element today only because of the manner in which they perfectly follow hierarchy. There have been no defectors from the ISI till date and rebellion of any sort against the top leadership within the ISI is even remotely possible, say insiders.

If a small fry like Sabahuddin, who helped stage the attack by surveying the targets and providing information about them to Lashkar handlers, claims to have met Pakistan Army chief General Adfaq Kayani, it is unlikely that Headley and Rana had no interaction with the top brass.       

Indian intelligence agencies are now banking on Rana, who they say is expected to retort, after he was let down by Headley. They agree with Rana's lawyers that Headley's version is unreliable and he had implicated Rana in the plot with a view of making a deal with the prosecutors. Moreover, Headley right from the time of his arrest was keen on playing safe and immediately entered into a plea bargain with the US authorities.

Charles Swift, Rana's attorney, said, "Headley is like a spider who spins the web so that everything works his way."

India, however, has little to worry about the flip-flops. Indian agencies are hoping to turn both Headley and Rana approvers.

Going by Headley's confession to the NIA, his case is an open and shut one. However, a big hurdle that they face is Headley's testimony giving a clean chit to the ISI leadership. It is important to establish the ISI link to the attacks to bring the real perpetrators of the 26/11 attack to justice.

"At first it appeared as though Headley would nail the top brass of the ISI, but today he has done a u-turn. We have to wait for Rana's testimony and see whether he sticks to his statements. However, we are not putting all our eggs into one basket and basing our case entirely on what happens in Chicago," said investigators.

"We have conducted an independent probe to show that even the top brass of the ISI was in the know of this attack. However, we cannot jump the gun on any of the issues since the trial is still on. We have to wait for it to conclude before we make our move," they added.


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Vicky Nanjappa