The Art of the Deal

MerminarticleLiz Mermin, also in Caravan:

In October 2009, two agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) arrested David Headley at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport as he was about to board a flight to Philadelphia. His intention, he later told interrogators, was to go from there to Pakistan and then on to Copenhagen to attack the Jyllands-Posten newspaper. At the time, investigators had no idea Headley had been involved in the Mumbai attacks (a detail he offered up after he was in custody), but he had been fixated on the Denmark plan following the “success” of 26/11, and intended to carry it out on his own, if necessary.

Although he had been trained to use AK-47s and grenades, Headley had never killed anyone with his own hand. His contribution to the 26/11 attack was intelligence from Mumbai: he provided his LeT handlers with hours and hours of video footage and offered strategic suggestions based on his time living in and scouting out the city. He was impatient for more action, and now wanted to attack the West. But LeT was under intense scrutiny after the Mumbai attacks, and his handler—though initially enthusiastic—had told him to back off. So he turned to al Qaeda. And when the men in Europe whom al Qaeda said would carry out the Copenhagen job were unwilling to do so, he offered to do it himself.

The plan was to enter the newspaper’s heavily secured office building with guns and knives, take hostages, shoot them, and then cut off their heads and throw them out the window into King’s New Square. As in Mumbai, the attackers were not supposed to survive. So it seems that the FBI might have saved David Headley’s life by arresting him—a courtesy they would extend again when he agreed to plead guilty and cooperate with the US government in exchange for a promise that he would avoid the death penalty and extradition to Denmark, Pakistan or India. The latter was something Headley wanted to avoid at all costs.

I had been following the Headley saga since November 2009, when I happened to see a MiD DAY gossip column headlined “Did Headley Date Starlet?” The piece began: “Lashkar-e-Taiba mastermind David Coleman Headley (49), whose reputation as a strikingly handsome charmer almost matches that of his terror history, may have dated starlet Aarti Chhabria.” My first thought—reading the paper online from London—was “who the hell is David Headley?”