India informed prior to Headleys changed plea

NEW DELHI: The US administration informed the Indian government before it finalised a deal with David Coleman Headley to change his plea to guilty of involvement in the worst terrorist attack on Indian soil, sources said.

Headley, born Daood Gilani, an American citizen of Pakistani origin told the Chicago court yesterday he played a key role in the planning and execution of the attacks in Mumbai on November 26, 2008.

What the changed plea does is save Headley from a near certain death sentence and any possibility of extradition to India.

However, according to sources in the government, what the plea of ‘guilty’ on all 12 counts for which Headley is charged by

the US Justice Department also does is to ensure that India gets access to him and his testimony.

While several security analysts disagree, informed sources in the Indian government said the plea bargain would ensure Headley’s cooperation, and help India get details of the serving Pakistan armyhandlers of the 26/11 perpetrators. India will be allowed access to interrogate Headley, who is key to a “huge amount of information” that will help fill the missing pieces in India’s case and unravel other aspects of the conspiracy.

There is no sense of disappointment in the Indian government, the sources said, because Headley will now have to depose and India will, as part of the plea bargain, get access to the man. “Access will give us an opportunity to get more information,” Home Minister P Chidambaram said yesterday, denying that the plea bargain was a “setback”.

“Headley has agreed to fully and truthfully testify in any foreign judicial proceedings held in the US. We will continue to press for access to Headley in that he will testify in a court or subject himself to interrogation,” Chidambaram said.

Chidambaram was briefed about the changed plea and its implications when Dennis Blair, Director of the US National Investigation Agency, visited him on Thursday. Timothy Roemer, US Ambassador to India, accompanied Blair.