David Headley: The Brain Behind the 26/11 Mumbai Terror Attacks

Here’s you need to know about David Headley, the man behind the 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks.

3 min read
David Headley: The Brain Behind the 26/11 Mumbai Terror Attacks
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Who is David Headley?

Born Daood Sayed Gilani, David Coleman Headley is a Pakistani origin American terrorist. He was a spy who conspired with the Lashkar-e-Taiba and Pakistani intelligence officers in plotting the 2008 Mumbai attacks.

He was raised in a radical environment, steeped in Pakistani nationalism and Islamic conservatism. His views were only aggravated by Pakistani tensions with India. In the 1971 Indo-Pak War, stray bombs hit Gilani’s elementary school in Karachi and killed two people. This, along with Pakistan’s defeat in the war stoked his hatred towards India.

File Photo of David Coleman Headley. (Photo: Next Big What)

The Making of David Headley

  • 1988: Gilani was arrested by the Frankfurt police in Frankfurt after two kilos of heroin were found hidden in a false bottom in his suitcase.
  • 1997: Gilani arrested in a Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) sting operation for smuggling heroin into the US from Pakistan.
  • 1999: Gilani received a supervised early release from prison so that he could travel to Pakistan to be wed in an arranged marriage.
  • 2002 - 2005: Headley is thought to have made several trips to Pakistan for Lashkar training, while simultaneously working as an informant for the US DEA.
  • 2005: David Headley’s training was advanced enough for him to want to fight in Kashmir.
  • 2006: Headley established ties with Abdur Rehman Hashim “Pasha” Syed, a retired Pakistan Army major and Lashkar militant.
  • 2007: Lashkar’s plot for the Mumbai attacks started to materialise. Using $25,000 supplied to him by Major Iqbal, Headley opened a Mumbai branch office for Tahawwur Rana’s immigration business – which Headley had already used to traffick heroin – as a front company. For their 2007 honeymoon, Headley took Faiza Outalha with him to Mumbai and stayed at both the Taj Mahal and the Oberoi Trident.
  • 2007 - 2008: Headley made five trips to Mumbai, scouting local landmarks where Lashkar terrorists would carry out the multi-pronged attack. Headley stayed at the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel – identified by Iqbal and Mir as their main target – and surveyed the building using his ISI training, shooting hours of video during in-house tours.
  • 2009: In March 2009, Headley made another trip to India to conduct surveillance of the National Defence College in Delhi, and of Chabad Houses in various cities in India. He was arrested at O’Hare International Airport in Chicago while on his way to Pakistan in October.
  • 2013: On January 24, 2013, a US federal court sentenced Headley to 35 years in prison for his role in the Mumbai attacks.
The Taj Mahal hotel is seen engulfed in smoke during a gun battle in Mumbai November 29, 2008. (Photo: Reuters)

David Headley: The Intelligence Behind the Attacks

As they expanded their list of targets, Headley scouted the Oberoi Trident Hotel, the Leopold Cafe, and the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus. When Lashkar decided to target the Nariman House, a Jewish community centre, Headley visited the location posing as a Jew. He also took boat tours to look for places where the attackers could reach the city through the waterfront. He found a landing location at a fishermen’s slum in the Colaba area of southern Mumbai, where he gathered GPS coordinates. For the maritime reconnaissance, Headley received assistance from the Pakistan Navy.

As the attacks unfolded in late November 2008, Headley watched the news coverage at home in Lahore. The ten Lashkar militants carried out the attacks, planned based on detailed intelligence gathered by Headley. The attack would lead to the deaths of 168 people, including six Americans. The intelligence he collected on the Nariman House allowed the terrorists to raid the building and execute its staff, in an act personally supervised by Sajid Mir from a command centre in Karachi.

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