35 Years in Prison for 166 Dead

American scout for Mumbai terrorist attack gets off light.

The 2008 terrorist attacks in Mumbai, India, claimed 166 victims from many nations, including six Americans: Ben Zion Chroman, Gavriel Holtzberg, Sandeep Jeswani, Alan Scherr, his daughter Naomi Scherr and Aryeh Leibish Teitelbaum. David Coleman Headley, the American who helped plan the attacks, avoided the death penalty or even life imprisonment and has been sentenced to 35 years. As one report noted, that works out to one year in prison for nearly every five people killed. The case raises questions about Pakistan’s involvement in terrorism and the collaboration of Americans in the attacks.

Headley, 52, was born Daood Gilani to a Pakistani father and American mother. He made five trips to Pakistan to train at camps operated by the terrorist organization Lashkar e Tayyiba, (LeT) which he later testified coordinated their operations with Pakistan’s intelligence service, the ISI. In 2006 Gilani changed his name to Daniel Coleman Headley to facilitate travel to India. Between 2006 and 2008 he made five trips to Mumbai. There he shot surveillance videos of the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel, the Chabad House Jewish community center, a train station and a children’s hospital. After each trip he traveled to Pakistan and gave the videos to LeT.

That intelligence work enabled 10 LeT terrorists to kill innocent civilians at random while being guided from Pakistan. The Chabad House Jewish community center was a primary target. Much of the three-day rampage was captured on video and PBS Frontline aired a documentary on the attacks.

Headley was arrested in 2009 and testified against Tahawwur Rana, a Chicago businessman who aided  LeT and plotted to attack Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten for cartoons of Muhammad. Rana has been sentenced to 14 years in prison. In Rana’s trial Headley testified that Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency coordinated with LeT. Pakistan denies the charge.

In the style of 911 the Mumbai attacks took India off guard but their Black Cats special forces eventually took down the terrorists and captured one alive, Mohammed Ajmal Kasab. India hanged him last year and Indian officials were disturbed by Headley’s light sentence in American courts.

Indian prosecutor Ujjwal Nikam told reporters that the sentence was “very meager, inadequate, insufficient” and that India would have imposed the death penalty. U.S. District Judge Harry Leinenweber agreed that Headley is a terrorist and deserved the death penalty. American Mumbai survivor Linda Ragsdale, shot in the back by one of the terrorists, testified that Headley has “lost his right to live as a free man” and that a sentence of 35 years would be an “appalling dishonor.”

As far as Pakistan’s involvement, innocent civilians everywhere have good reason never to believe anything until it has been officially denied. Pakistan was protecting Osama bin Laden and is doubtless smoldering over the U.S. operation to kill him, now being celebrated on film in Zero Dark Thirty.

Last September, an attack on Camp Bastion in Helmand province of Afghanistan destroyed six Harrier jets and damaged two others. The attackers were well equipped, wore U.S. Army uniforms, and the operation was clearly well planned rehearsed beyond what one would expect from the Taliban. That has led some observers to suspect official Pakistani involvement.

The attackers doubtless had inside information from someone who played a spotter role in the manner of David Coleman Headley. Though he escaped just punishment for collaboration in the Mumbai attacks, Headley was at least put on trial and sentenced to a long term in prison, from which he may never emerge.  Meanwhile, no trial date has yet been set for Major Nidal Hasan, the U.S Army psychiatrist and jihadist who killed 13 and wounded 32 others at Fort Hood in 2009.

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