Sunday, November 22, 2009

A Terror Suspect With Feet in East and West


November 22, 2009

A Terror Suspect With Feet in East and West


PHILADELPHIA — The trip from a strict Pakistani boarding school to a bohemian bar in Philadelphia has defined David Headley’s life, according to those who know the middle-age man at the center of a global terrorism investigation.

Raised by his father in Pakistan as a devout Muslim, Mr. Headley arrived back here at 17 to live with his American mother, a former socialite who ran a bar called the Khyber Pass.


Today, Mr. Headley is an Islamic fundamentalist who once liked to get high. He has a traditional Pakistani wife, who lives with their children in Chicago, but also an American girlfriend — a makeup artist in New York — according to a relative and friends. Depending on the setting, he alternates between the name he adopted in the United States, David Headley, and the Urdu one he was given at birth, Daood Gilani. Even his eyes — one brown, the other green — hint at roots in two places.

Mr. Headley, an American citizen, is accused of being the lead operative in a loose-knit group of militants plotting revenge against a Danish newspaper that published cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad. The indictment against him portrays a man who moved easily between different worlds. The profile that has emerged of him since his arrest, however, suggests that Mr. Headley felt pulled between two cultures and ultimately gravitated toward an extremist Islamic one.


“Some of us are saying that ‘Terrorism’ is the weapon of the cowardly,” Mr. Headley wrote in an e-mail message to his high school classmates last February. “I will say that you may call it barbaric or immoral or cruel, but never cowardly.”

He added, “Courage is, by and large, exclusive to the Muslim nation.”


Mr. Headley’s e-mail messages, including many that defended beheadings and suicide bombings as heroic, are among the evidence in the government’s case against him and his accused co-conspirator, Tahawwur Hussain Rana, who was born in Pakistan, is a citizen of Canada and runs businesses in Chicago.


The men, who became close friends in a military academy outside Islamabad, were arrested last month in Chicago. They are charged with plotting an attack they labeled the Mickey Mouse Project against Jyllands-Posten, the Danish newspaper whose cartoons provoked outrage across the Muslim world.


Since then, the investigation has widened beyond Chicago and Copenhagen. The authorities have learned more, with cooperation from Mr. Headley, about the two men’s network of contacts with known terrorist groups, including Al Qaeda and Lashkar-e-Taiba, a Pakistani militant group, as well as officials in the Pakistani government and military. United States and Indian investigators are also looking into whether the two Chicago men, who traveled to Mumbai before the deadly assault there last November, may have been involved in the plot.


Mr. Headley, 49, and Mr. Rana, 48, stand out from the young, poor extremists from fundamentalist Islamic schools who strike targets in or close to their homelands. Instead, their privileged backgrounds, extensive travel and bouts of culture shock make them more like Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the self-proclaimed architect of the Sept. 11 attacks, who attended college in the United States, and Mohammed Atta, one of the lead hijackers.


Mr. Rana’s father is a former principal of a high school outside Lahore. One of his brothers is a Pakistani military psychiatrist who has written several books, and another is a journalist at a Canadian political newspaper, The Hill Times.

Trained as a physician, Mr. Rana immigrated to Canada in 1997 and became a citizen a few years later. Then he moved his wife and three children to Chicago, where he opened a travel agency that also provided immigration services on Devon Avenue, which cuts through the heart of the city’s Pakistani community. In 2002, he started a Halal slaughterhouse that butchers goats, sheep and cows according to Islamic religious laws.


He and his family live in a small brick house on the North Side with a huge satellite dish on the roof. Neighbors described Mr. Rana as a recluse who rarely spoke to anyone and whose children never played with others on the street.


“He seemed very committed to his Islamic religion,” said William Rodosky, who once managed Mr. Rana’s slaughterhouse, in Kinsman, Ill., about 65 miles southwest of Chicago. “He said he wanted the business so he could provide meat to his people and make a little money.”


Mr. Rodosky echoed the views of several others who knew and did business with Mr. Rana when he said he was “shocked about the terrorism charges.”


“As far as I knew, he was very nice man and a very good businessman,” Mr. Rodosky said.


But Mr. Headley did not draw the same expressions of shock. Those who knew him paint a more troubled image.


“Most people have contradictions in their lives, but they learn to reconcile them,” said William Headley, an uncle who owns a day care center in Nottingham, Pa. “But Daood could never do that. The left side does not speak to the right side. And that’s the problem.”


Daood Sayed Gilani was born in Washington, where his parents worked at the Pakistani Embassy. Friends of the family said his father, Sayed Salim Gilani, a dashing diplomat and an avid musicologist and poet, charmed his way into the heart of Serrill Headley, who had left Philadelphia’s Main Line to work as a secretary at the embassy.


In 1960, the couple and their infant son, Daood, left the United States bound for England aboard the ship America, and from there went on to Lahore. But the marriage quickly soured, friends said, as Mr. Gilani immersed himself in the traditions of his homeland and his bride refused to submit to them.


After Ms. Headley left Mr. Gilani and her son and a daughter, Syedah, in Pakistan, friends say, the details of her life become lost in a jumble of fact and fiction. Ms. Headley, a red-haired, green-eyed woman, told friends she married an “Afghan prince” but then had to flee Kabul after he was murdered.


She arrived back in Philadelphia, friends said, in the early 1970s, taking different office jobs and dating wealthy suitors until one of them lent her money to buy an old bar. She turned it into the Khyber Pass, decorated with billowing Afghan wedding tents and stocked with exotic beers.


In 1977, Pakistan’s government was overthrown in a military coup, and Ms. Headley, friends said, feared for her children. She traveled to Pakistan, withdrew her son from the Hasan Abdal Cadet College and brought him to live with her, a move recorded by The Philadelphia Inquirer. (Her daughter, Syedah, stayed behind with her father for several years.)


“He has never been alone with, much less had a date with, a girl, except the servant girls of his household,” the article said, referring to the teenage Daood Gilani. “But he has just this day found a cricket team to join. And he has just this day, after watching American TV, said to his mother in his soft Urdu-English that she is to him like the Bionic Woman.”


According to family friends, the teenager soon rebelled against his mother’s heavy drinking and multiple sexual relationships by engaging in the same behavior.


“Those were the days when girls, weed, and whatever, were readily available,” Jay Wilson, who worked at the Khyber Pass, wrote in an e-mail message from England. “Daood was not immune to the pleasures of American adolescence.”


Later, said Lorenzo Lacovara, another former worker at the bar, Daood Gilani began expressing anger at all non-Muslims.

“He would clearly state he had contempt for infidels,” Mr. Lacovara said in a telephone interview from New Mexico. “He kept talking about the return of the 14th century, saying Islam was going to take over the world.”


Ms. Headley tried to help her son straighten out his life. In 1985, she put him in charge of the Khyber Pass, but he proved to be such a poor manager that they lost the bar a couple of years later, friends of the family said.


Ms. Headley embarked on her third marriage, and her son set off for New York, where he opened two video rental stores in Manhattan. It is unclear where he got the money to start the ventures. But court files suggest that the source may not have been entirely legal.


In 1998, Mr. Gilani, then 38, was convicted of conspiring to smuggle heroin into the country from Pakistan. Court records show that after his arrest, he provided so much information about his own involvement with drug trafficking, which stretched back more than a decade, and about his Pakistani suppliers, that he was sentenced to less than two years in jail and later went to Pakistan to conduct undercover surveillance operationsfor the Drug Enforcement Administration.


In 2006, he changed his name to David Headley, apparently to make border crossings between the United States and other countries easier, court documents say. About that time, his uncle said, he moved his family to Chicago because it had a large Muslim community and he wanted to send his four children to religious schools.


There, the family lived in a small second-floor apartment. Mr. Headley claimed to work for Mr. Rana’s immigration agency.


The two men attended the Jame Masjid mosque on Fridays, then stopped at the nearby Zam Zamrestaurant to eat and talk politics. Cricket, neighbors said, was their passion.


But Mr. Headley never seemed to fully fit in. Masood Qadir, who sometimes watched cricket with him, said he was “different” and kept mostly to himself.


E-mail messages show, however, that Mr. Headley stayed in regular contact with classmates from the military high school he attended in Pakistan, often engaging in impassioned debates about politics and Islam.


Earlier this year, Mr. Headley complained about “NATO criminal vermin dropping 22,000 lbs bombs on unsuspecting, unarmed Afghan villagers” or “napalming southeast Asian farmers.” Writing about Pakistan’s chief enemy, he said, “We will retaliate against India.”


And in an e-mail message defending the beheading of a Polish engineer by the Taliban in Pakistan, he wrote, “The best way for a man to die is with the sword.”


Reporting was contributed by Puk Damsgard in Islamabad, Pakistan; Emma Graves Fitzsimmons in Chicago; Nate Schweber and John Eligon in New York; and Ian Austen in Ottawa. Research was contributed by Barclay Walsh in Washington.



Copyright 2009 The New York Times Company


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"The master class has always declared the wars; the subject class has always fought the battles. The master class has had all to gain and nothing to lose, while the subject class has had nothing to gain and everything to lose--especially their lives." Eugene Victor Debs


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