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David Headley pleads guilty in 2008 Mumbai terrorist attack

US citizen David Headley, who allegedly scouted locations and provided advance support for the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attack, agreed to plead guilty for his role in exchange for avoiding the death penalty.

By Staff writer / March 18, 2010

David Coleman Headley, shown in this Dec. 9, 2009 courtroom drawing, agreed to plead guilty to providing advance surveillance for the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attack.

Verna Sadock/AP/File

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Facing a possible death sentence, a Chicago man agreed to plead guilty on Thursday to performing advance surveillance that helped lay the groundwork for the deadly 2008 terrorist attack on civilians in Mumbai, India.

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David Coleman Headley, a US citizen, could have been sentenced to death by lethal injection for his alleged involvement in the India attacks that left more than 164 dead, including six Americans. But with his guilty plea, prosecutors have agreed not to seek the death penalty or to extradite him to India, Pakistan, or Denmark.

The agreement, announced in federal court in Chicago, is contingent on Mr. Headley’s full cooperation with US intelligence officials and prosecutors. Under sentencing guidelines he could receive a prison term of up to life in prison. But his prison time could be reduced based on the value of his cooperation.

Headley’s plea agreement says he’s been cooperating with US officials since his arrest in October 2009, and that he has already provided “substantial assistance.”

“Not only has the criminal justice system achieved a guilty plea in this case, but David Headley is now providing us valuable intelligence about terrorist activities,” Attorney General Eric Holder said. “As this case demonstrates, we must continue to use every tool available to defeat terrorism both at home and abroad.”

Headley was among four men named in a 12-count indictment returned by a Chicago grand jury in January for involvement in two plots: the 2008 Mumbai attack, and a separate plot to murder an editor and an illustrator at a Danish newspaper.

The Danish paper, Morgenavisen Jyllands-Posten, printed a cartoon depiction of the Prophet Mohammed in September 2005 that many Muslims found highly offensive. That plot was never carried out.

Headley’s plea agreement reveals new details about the alleged plot. It says a Pakistan-based militant leader with ties to Al-Qaeda suggested that Europe-based operatives could provide manpower for a suicide attack on the newspaper offices.

The leader said once inside the building the attackers should behead newspaper employees and throw their severed heads out the building “to heighten the response from Danish authorities.”

According to information in the 33-page indictment, Headley agreed to provide surveillance for the Pakistan-based militant group Lashkar-e-Tayyiba (Army of the Good). The group has long battled India over claims to the disputed territories of Jammu and Kashmir.

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