David Headley, the mastermind behind the terror attacks in Mumbai, had an elusive charm about him. People, who knew him closely, including his third wife Faiza Outallah and his Mumbaiyya best buddy Rahul Bhatt (the son of Mahesh Bhatt), would describe Headley as “warm, “friendly”, “charming”, and “generous”.
What we would never get to know is that if this cold-blooded criminal actually deserved any of these endearing adjectives, or was it just a part of his game to befriend people with an ulterior motive?
On the day the Twin Towers were attacked by al Qaeda terrorist on September 2001, Daood Gilani’s (he assumed the name David Headley much later) religious radicalism came to the fore. As the visuals of the terror attack were relayed live on TV, Headley appeared very excited and exclaimed right in front of his second wife Portia that America deserved it.
Portia had believed that her husband was a red-blooded American, and his glee at the national tragedy startled her. She shared this unusual thing with her friend, who in turn, reported to the anti-terror squad and got Headley arrested.
When interrogated in front of the DEA (Drug Enforcement Administration), Daood put up an act that he was with the US, and that he was no terror supporter. His alliance with the DEA was quite old, and he was still their star informer.
Satisfied with the explanation, the US sent him back to Pakistan to get inside LeT and relay the terror tactics of the group. Daood went to Pakistan and underwent a three-week military course and jihad.
But he failed to clear the test, and a crest-fallen Daood came back to America to live in with his girlfriend Portia. By now, he was totally radicalised; Daood renounced his American habits, wore Muslim traditional clothes, and spend hours in his American flat, praying.
Alarmed by the change, Daood’s American mother Sherryl Headley shared with her friend that her son was “attending training camps in Pakistan and talking about how much he hates India”.
Horrified, Sherryl’s friend relayed the news to the FBI. But this time too, nothing much happened, because the US government already knew Daood’s movements. Shortly after, he married Portia, and for two whole years, Daood travelled freely between Pakistan and America.
The man landed in a storm in 2005 when Portia discovered about his first marriage. She reported him to the anti-terrorism squad, and narrated about Daood’s terror links, his religious fanaticism, his hatred towards India. They got divorced shortly.
The FBI did nothing yet again because Daood lured them with an inside-view of LeT. It was becoming a pattern by now; no matter who reported what against Daood, the American government would turn a blind eye against their blue-eyd boy. It was all fine as long as he gave them what they wanted.
In the starting of 2006, Daood established ties with Adbur Rehman Hashim “Pasha” Syed, an ex-Pakistan Army officer, now a LeT militant. The attack on Mumbai was seeded during this alliance. Keen to sell himself to the LeT, Daood tried to win over an ISI agent swearing his hate for India, and extending help for jihad against Indians.
When his smooth talk didn’t cut ice, Daood played his final card: “Why not use a clean skin to do the reconnaissance for a spectacular attack on a great Indian commercial hub like Mumbai?” He reasoned, and as ever, this time too, he won the game of words. The LeT command agreed to the proposal, and Daood went back to Philadelphia and legally changed his name to David Coleman Headley, taking his mother’s surname.
Major Iqbal and Sajid Mir became Headley’s ISI handlers and oversaw his training in espionage techniques in preparation for a reconnaissance mission to Mumbai. While all this jihadi thoughts were swarming the mind of Daood, he fell in love again with a Moroccan girl, Faiza Outalha, who was in Pakistan, studying medicine.
Daood aka Headley was learning from his mistakes. This time, he told Faiza that he was married, and she had no problems about that. He married Faiza, while he was actively working on his Mumbai mission. In 2007, he took Faiza to Mumbai for a honeymoon, and the couple stayed at both the Taj Mahal and the Oberoi Trident. Headley went on about his duties, video graphing the hotels and mapping them for the deadly attacks.
The trip ended with an argument between the couple and Faiza packed her bags to Lahore. Faiza was an intelligent woman, and Iqbal and Mir were scared that she would discover Headley’s mission. Heeding their advice, Headley told Faiza that he wanted to separate from her.
An enraged Faiza, reported Headley to the US embassy in Islamabad, describing his Mumbai activities at length. However, the US officials laughed at her, and threw her out of the embassy.
Apparently, her warnings were relayed to the DEA, the FBI, and the CIA in America, but it didn’t harm Headley. He was insulated in a strange way. However, America did warn India of impending terror attacks in Mumbai, but a lax department failed to prepare itself.
Eventually, the attacks took place on 26 November 2008, that killed 166 people, and left hundreds injured.