By Sebastian Rotella
Saturday, October 16, 2010; A1
Three years before Pakistani terrorists struck Mumbai in November 2008, federal agents in New York City investigated a tip that an American businessman was training in Pakistan with the group that later executed the attack.
The previously undisclosed allegations against David Coleman Headley, who became a key figure in the plot that killed 166 people, came from his wife after a domestic dispute that resulted in his arrest in 2005.
In three interviews with federal agents, Headley's wife said that he was an active militant in the terrorist group Lashkar-i-Taiba, had trained extensively in its Pakistani camps, and had shopped for night-vision goggles and other equipment, according to officials and sources close to the case. The wife, whom ProPublica is not identifying to protect her safety, also told agents that Headley had bragged of working as a paid
Federal officials say the FBI "looked into" the tip, but they declined to say what, if any, action was taken. Headley was jailed briefly in
In the four years between the wife's warning and Headley's capture, Lashkar sent him on reconnaissance missions around the world. On five trips to Mumbai, he scouted targets for the attack, using his
In March, Headley pleaded guilty to charges of terrorism in the Mumbai attacks and to a failed plot to take and behead hostages at a Danish newspaper. He is cooperating with authorities.
It is not clear from the available information whether a different response to the tip about Headley might have averted the Mumbai attacks. It is known that
Former DEA informant
The handling of Headley's case calls into question the progress of
Court records and interviews show that Headley served as an informant for the Drug Enforcement Administration, starting in the late 1990s. But a former senior
"Headley was closed as an informant because he wasn't producing anything," the former senior official said. He said he thought Headley's relationship with the DEA ended "years" before Mumbai, but he did not have more precise information.
Federal officials refused to discuss the 2005 tip, other than to confirm that the FBI conducted an inquiry into the allegations made by Headley's wife.
FBI officials said they could not comment on the agency's role in the case because of ongoing prosecutions in
Anti-terrorism officials noted that federal authorities in
"They get half a dozen leads a day like this," a
The tip came at a time of heightened fears about Pakistani terrorism. A month earlier, al-Qaeda suicide bombers trained in
Headley was born Daood Gilani in Washington, D.C. His Pakistani father was a renowned broadcaster. His mother, whose maiden name was Headley, came from a wealthy
Gilani moved to
In 1988, the DEA arrested him in
In 1997, three years after Gilani moved to
"He . . . helped the DEA infiltrate the very close-knit Pakistani narcotics dealing community in
Gilani was sentenced to 19 months in prison, but was freed on probation in less than a year. Records show that while he was on probation he got permission in 1999 to go to
After the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, Gilani told associates he planned to train with Lashkar as part of a secret mission for the
Wife contacts task force
In December 2002, Gilani married his girlfriend of eight years in
His wife contacted authorities in August 2005. She had demanded a divorce after learning he had a wife and children in
On Aug. 26, she phoned a tip line of the Joint Terrorism Task Force in
On Aug. 31,
Not long after the arrest, task force investigators met three times with his wife. It is not known if the investigators questioned him about her revelations.
The tip came after he had finished training and soon before he met with terrorist bosses in
After the Mumbai attacks, Lashkar deployed Headley on a plot against a Danish newspaper that had published cartoons of the prophet Muhammad. Lashkar soon put the plot on hold, so Headley turned to Ilyas Kashmiri, an al-Qaeda kingpin in
ProPublica researchers Nicholas Kusnetz and Lisa Schwartz contributed to this report. ProPublica is an independent, nonprofit newsroom that produces investigative journalism. ProPublica is supported entirely by philanthropy and provides the articles it produces, free of charge, both through its Web site and to other news organizations.
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