India slams leniency for man who scouted targets for Mumbai attacks
Judge agrees to 35-year sentence for 'scout' but New Delhi will continue seeking his extradition
India yesterday criticised the 35-year prison term handed down by a Chicago court to an American man who admitted scouting targets for the deadly 2008 Mumbai attacks and then co-operated with US authorities to avoid execution or extradition.
David Coleman Headley, 52, pleaded guilty in 2010 to 12 charges related to the carnage in Mumbai and a second plot to attack a Danish newspaper that sparked outrage over its publication of cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed.
He convinced US federal prosecutors to let him live after he was caught on tape plotting the Danish attack by telling them all he had learned in seven years of working with Pakistani militants.
Former US attorney Patrick Fitzgerald, who brokered the plea deal, said the information Headley provided "saved lives", as he urged Judge Harry Leinenweber not to impose the maximum sentence of life in prison.
But when handing down the 35-year prison sentence on Thursday, Leinenweber told Headley he would much rather impose the death penalty, saying: "That's what you deserve."
Heavily armed militants rampaged through Mumbai in November 2008, killing 166 people and wounding hundreds more amid nearly three days of carnage in a prolonged assault on the Indian financial capital.
Indian External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid said yesterday that Headley deserved more than the 35-year prison sentence.
Khurshid said India would continue to press for Headley's extradition to face trial for his role in planning the attack and identifying targets.
Headley spent two years casing Mumbai, taking boat tours around the city's harbour to find landing sites for the attackers and befriending Bollywood stars as part of his cover.
He was so eager to attack Denmark's Jyllands-Posten newspaper and kill its cartoonist that he began working seriously on that plot two months before the Mumbai attack.
He also had Bollywood and one of India's most sacred Hindu temples in his sights as he began plotting a second Indian attack during a March 2009 surveillance trip.
Leinenweber said that while the damage that Headley had caused was unfathomable, he decided to fulfil the government's request because the recommended 30 to 35 years "is not a light sentence" given Headley's age. "I'm hopeful it will keep Mr Headley under lock and key for the rest of his natural life," the judge said.
India objected after US prosecutors agreed not to extradite Headley in exchange for his co-operation after his October 2009 arrest in Chicago's O'Hare airport as he was set to board a flight to Pakistan.
The Washington-born son of a former Pakistani diplomat and an American woman, Headley's Western appearance and US passport helped him slip under the radar.
Headley, who changed his name so he could hide his Pakistani heritage, joined Lashkar-e-Taiba - the group India blames for the attacks - in 2002, attending terror training camps five times in three years.
Additional reporting by Associated Press