David Coleman Headley, the middle-aged US citizen of Pakistani origin born to a former Pakistani public servant posted in the US and his American wife, who is facing investigation and prosecution before a Federal court in Chicago on charges relating to the Mumbai 26/11 terrorist attack of last year and a planned terrorist attack on a Danish newspaper in Copenhagen, is not a home-grown jihadi on the model of the British residents of Pakistani origin who carried out the suicide acts of terrorism in London in July,2005.
He was not an ill-integrated American like the Pakistani terrorists were ill-integrated British who hated the society in which they had grown up. He did not nurse any grievance or anger against the country of his adoption. There is so far no evidence to show even that he was a practising Muslim with a fundamentalist mindset. His original anger arose from the publication of some cartoons of the Holy Prophet by a Danish newspaper in 2005. He strongly felt the need for a Muslim retaliation against the paper.
It was this anger and the urge to retaliate, which seemed to have driven him first into the arms of the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LET) in 2005 and then into the fold of the so-called 313 Brigade based in the Federally-Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) of Pakistan and headed by Ilyas Kashmiri, a Pakistani of suspected Army links, who had initially served in the Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami (HUJI) and then gravitated towards Al Qaeda along with his organisation.
The British suicide bombers were not recruited by Al Qaeda or any of its affiliates. Driven by anger against the British role in Iraq and Afghanistan, they volunteered themselves for a suicide attack, got trained in Pakistan and carried out the attack in London. They targeted innocent British civilians and wanted them to die.
There is so far no evidence to show that Headley's anger had anything to do with the US role in Iraq or Afghanistan or with the militant movement in India's Jammu & Kashmir (J&K). His anger was triggered off by a perceived insult to the Holy Prophet and to Islam and a strongly-felt urge to avenge it.
He was not recruited by the LET and the 313 Brigade. He volunteered himself to help them -- not for personally carrying out an act of terrorism in US territory against US nationals, but for facilitating an act of terrorism in Copenhagen by undertaking reccee missions to Denmark under the cover of an employee of a Chicago-based immigration consultation company, which ostensibly wanted to open an office in Copenhagen.
The LET and the 313 Brigade welcomed him with open arms. The LET diverted his anger to India and used him as a mole with an assumed non-Pakistani Christian/Jewish identity for undertaking frequent visits to India of long duration to reccee targets and the Mumbai sea front for its planned sea-borne terrorist attack. He willingly became a facilitator of the conspiracy, which resulted in the death of 166 persons-- 25 of them foreign nationals, including six American nationals.
The LET's decision to use the willingness of Headley to conceal his Pakistani/Muslim identity and highlight his American/ Christian identity helped it in overcoming the suspicions of Indian immigration authorities against Muslims of Pakistani origin. In the wake of the growing closeness of India to the US, an American passport holder with a non-Muslim identity hardly created any suspicion in India. On the contrary, the features of a White American inherited by him from his mother helped him in ingratiating himself with different sections of the urban Indian elite. He managed to create an image of himself as a "jolly good American", who wished well of India.
Headley knew that the LET was planning to target Jewish people and a Jewish religious-cultural centre in Mumbai because it had asked him to reccee the Nariman House in which the Jewish centre was located. But one does not know as yet whether he knew that the LET was also planning to target and kill non-Jewish foreigners, including Americans.
Headley willingly and painstakingly undertook the reccee missions for the LET in India, but his heart was in Copenhagen where he wanted to help the 313 Brigade in attacking the Danish paper. It was his enthusiasm for the planned attack in Copenhagen by Ilyas Kashmiri, which brought him to the notice of the FBI and ultimately led to his arrest along with the arrest of his associate Tahawwur Hussain Rana, a Canadian citizen of Pakistani origin. living and working in Chicago.
Headley was helping the LET since 2005 and the 313 Brigade since 2008, but his admiration for Ilyas Kashmiri and his poor opinion of the LET despite his association with it come out clearly from his intercepted communications produced by the FBI in the court. He looked upon the LET as lacking the courage to undertake a major terrorist strike in Copenhagen.
The LET's interest in recruiting US residents of Pakistani origin and White converts to Islam for terrorist attacks in India was known to the FBI since 2003. What must have come as a surprise to it was the first-time use by the LET of dissimulation as part of its modus operandi.
The question that US and Indian investigators would be asking themselves is-- is Headley a lone fish or are there other Headleys who remain undetected in the US and India?
Headley's case brings to mind the attempt of Al Qaeda to use Dhiren Barot also known as Esa-al-Hindi, a Hindu convert to Islam living in the UK, to undertake reccee missions to New York to collect operational intelligence about US financial institutions which could be used for another terrorist attack in US territory. Barot's Indian origin and British passport did not ring the same alarm bell in the minds of the US immigration as Arabs and Pakistanis did. Al Qaeda sought to exploit this.
Barot was not recruited by Al Qaeda. Angered by reports of the alleged suppression of Muslims in J&K and other parts of India and the anti-Muslim violence in Gujarat in 2002, he volunteered himself to help Al Qaeda and its affiliates. Al Qaeda welcomed him and turned his anti-India anger to the US and the UK and tried unsuccessfully to use him for its operations in those countries. He was detected by the joint efforts of the US and British intelligence, arrested and sentenced to a long term of imprisonment.
Home-grown jihadi moles, who act as facilitators of terrorist conspiracies, without personally participating in a terrorist attack, are going to be more difficult to detect than home-grown jihadi terrorists. The close co-operation of the FBI and the Indian intelligence in the Headley case should form the starting block for a joint drive to guard them against this phenomenon.
B. Raman is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai.