US Mumbai plotter sentenced to 35 years

2013-01-24 20:48
A courtroom drawing of David Coleman Headley. (Picture: AFP)

A courtroom drawing of David Coleman Headley. (Picture: AFP)

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Chicago - David Coleman Headley, who helped plot the devastating 2008 Mumbai attacks before agreeing to become an informer, was sentenced by a US judge on Thursday to 35 years in prison.

Headley, 52, had pleaded guilty to scoping out Mumbai on behalf of Pakistani militants and to a second plot to attack a Danish newspaper, striking a deal to avoid the death penalty.

"The sentence I impose, I'm hopeful it will keep Mr Headley under lock and key for the rest of his natural life," Judge Harry Leinenweber said.

He added that it would have been much easier to impose the death penalty, saying "that's what you deserve," but that he opted for the 35-year sentence after a motion by the government, saying it was "not a light sentence”.

Heavily-armed militants rampaged through Mumbai in November 2008, killing 166 people and wounding hundreds more over nearly three days of carnage in a prolonged assault on the Indian financial capital.

But US attorney Patrick Fitzgerald had urged leniency, telling the judge that Headley's decision to become an informant "saved lives”.

In a plot that reads like a spy thriller, Headley spent two years casing out Mumbai, even taking boat tours around the city's harbour to find landing sites for the attackers and befriending Bollywood stars as part of his cover.

Prosecutors described it as a supporting but "essential" role.

The Washington-born son of a former Pakistani diplomat and American woman, Headley's Western appearance and US passport helped him slip under the radar for much of the seven years he spent working with militant groups.

And while he quickly turned informant to save his own skin, prosecutors said Headley was committed to the cause of terrorism.

He was so eager to attack Denmark's Jyllands-Posten newspaper over its publication of cartoons mocking the Prophet Muhammad that he began working seriously on that plot two months before the Mumbai attack.

He also had Bollywood and one of India's most sacred Hindu temples in his sights as he began plotting a second India attack during a March 2009 surveillance trip.

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