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Mumbai sentencing: American gets 35 years, judge calls him 'terrorist'

David Coleman Headley, a US citizen of Pakistani heritage, conducted surveillance for the Mumbai attackers. In light of his cooperation with investigators, prosecutors did not seek the death penalty.

By Staff writer / January 24, 2013

In this courtroom sketch, David Coleman Headley appears before US District Judge Harry Leinenweber at federal court in Chicago, Thursday, as Leinenweber imposes a sentence of 35 years in prison for the key role Headley played in a 2008 terrorist attack on Mumbai that has been called India's 9/11.

Tom Gianni/AP

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A federal judge in Chicago sentenced an American citizen to 35 years in prison on Thursday for his role in providing surveillance information and videos laying the groundwork for the 2008 terror attacks in Mumbai, India, that left more than 160 dead and hundreds wounded.

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David Coleman Headley, a US citizen of Pakistani heritage, was arrested in October 2009. He agreed shortly afterward to cooperate with US investigators and intelligence officials, and he testified against one of his fellow co-conspirators.

Among other information, Mr. Headley told US officials of a link between the terror operation in India and Pakistan’s intelligence service, the ISI. He identified his ISI contact as “Major Iqbal,” according to court documents.

“Major Iqbal” helped plan and fund the Mumbai attacks, he said.

In light of his cooperation, prosecutors did not seek the death penalty for Headley. In addition, instead of a life sentence, prosecutors urged US District Judge Harry Leinenweber to impose a 30 to 35-year prison term.

During the sentencing hearing, Judge Leinenweber called Headley a “terrorist” and rejected suggestions he had reformed his life.

“I don’t have any faith in Mr. Headley when he says he’s a changed person and believes in the American way of life,” the judge said, according to the Associated Press.

In their sentencing memorandum, prosecutors acknowledged that Headley played “an essential role in the planning of a horrific terrorist attack.”

“There is little question that life imprisonment would be an appropriate punishment for Headley’s incredibly serious crimes,” they said. But they added that his extensive cooperation had been of “significant value” to US anti-terror efforts.

Headley, 52, is unlikely to emerge from prison until he is well into his 80s.

Headley pleaded guilty in March 2010 to all 12 counts in his indictment. The charges included conspiracy to bomb public places in India, conspiracy to murder and maim persons in India, and six counts of aiding and abetting the murder of US citizens in India.

Among the dead were six American citizens.

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