David Headley, who surveyed targets for the 26/11 attacks, gave Indian interrogators a step-by-step account of his training with Laskhar-e-Taiba. The details are in a new book, Headley and I, written by S. Hussain Zaidi with filmmaker Mahesh Bhatt’s son Rahul Bhatt, whom Headley befriended on his visits to India. The following are excerpts from the book.
After a couple of days of interrogating David Headley, Behera thought he had more or less figured him out. He knew that Headley would tell him much of what he knew and had done, primarily because he had a boastful streak in him. All Behera had to do was egg him on. So far, the strategy was working beautifully.
‘Tell me about your training, Mr Headley,’ Behera said. ‘You clearly had a lot of training with Lashkar-e-Taiba, and they must have trusted you a lot.’
Headley beamed. ‘Yeah, they trusted me.’
‘So what kind of training did you get exactly?’
After the first two preliminary stages — the Daura-e-Amma and Daura-e-Sufa — I progressed to the next. The training became much more practical, and I learned to translate my acceptance and belief in Salafi Islam and radical ideology into action.
In April 2003, I volunteered for the Daura-e-Khaassa in Muzaffarabad in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. There were thirty or forty of us in the group that underwent the Daura-e-Khaassa training, which lasted for a full three months. During that time, we were taught the importance of being soldiers of Islam…
But the one thing that some individuals in the group had trouble dealing with was the bloodshed. They kept asking themselves, and each other, and our masters and trainers and teachers, if it was acceptable to kill human beings, and if so, why.
MOVIES ON ATROCITIES
This was what Daura-e-Khaassa was all about. The earlier Dauras were orientation programmes, this was the real induction into jehad. We were told that it was not just okay to kill others, it was actually an act of worship—it needed to be done to avenge the wrongdoings against Muslims. The LeT established this primarily by showing us very gory and violent movies about atrocities against Muslims.
One of those movies that I still remember vividly was the one on Babu Bajrangi and atrocities in Gujarat. He was involved in killing innocent Muslims in Gujarat; he had been caught on a hidden camera saying that he didn’t mind if he was hanged, but before he was, he wanted to be given a couple of days so he could go and kill as many Muslims as he could. Despite overwhelming evidence, the Gujarat state and the Indian government did not act against him.
My hatred for and rage at India increased manifold during those three months.
We were also shown some of the innumerable inflammatory speeches made by the Maharashtrian goondas of the Shiv Sena and their supremo Bal Thackeray. Hafiz Saeed was the one who showed us the damage that Bal Thackeray had done to the Muslim ummah.
I know now that they were shown to us primarily to motivate us. And after everything that we saw on those videos, all our reservations were washed away, and we were fuelled by an unnatural, powerful rage. As it is, I had nursed a hatred against India ever since I was a child and my school had been bombed, but now, my loathing and animosity towards it were reinforced and with good reason.
Finally, after graduating from the Daura-e-Khaassa, we were taken to a mountain in Muzaffarabad. At first, I thought the next part of our training would be in a cave, as it looked like that was where we were headed. We soon found out that it was much more. It was a self-sustained branch of the Lashkar-e-Taiba. The sheer grandeur of the place took my breath away — it appeared to be more like a palatial fortress than anything else.
It was a safe house, and it was called Bait-ul Mujahideen, meaning the ‘house of the crusaders’. Whenever mujahideens would cross over from India’s Jammu and Kashmir or from Pakistan, they would be stationed here and taken care of. Here, they lived a life of luxury until they were ready to leave, or were given details of their next mission. They would then cross the border to India.
I also met a frogman while I was in Muzaffarabad; he was introduced to me as Abdur Rehman. He seemed to be from the Pakistan Navy. In that Lashkar camp, Bait-ul Mujahideen, we received intensive all-round training. The emphasis was primarily on urban warfare, and we were trained in two-man, body-attack operations. We learned to cover our partners and work with them seamlessly. We were taught all kinds of urban warfare skills — two-man entry, two-man firing from cover, and covering jams and reloads. We also had situational training — stair work, hall work, combat, first aid, and even unarmed hand-to-hand combat.
We were taught to shoot with all kinds of weapons — pistols, rifles, shotguns, everything. I handled the M-16, Heckler and Koch, FNAR rifles, Steyr AUG, submachine guns and even a Dragunov sniper rifle. I was also taught how to use hand grenades and antipersonnel fragmentation grenades. But the one weapon that all of us had to master was the AK-47 and its derivatives.
By 2005, I had finished my training and had become a full-fledged member of the LeT, a jehadi dedicated to the cause of true Islam. I was itching to start work, and was looking forward to the mission in India that I had been told might be given to me. Within a few days, I was introduced to a retired brigadier of the ISI. They never revealed his full name to me, I only knew him as Retired Brigadier Riyaz.
Riyaz lived in a palatial house in Muzaffarabad, reminiscent of all those palaces that people see in movies and photographs. There were times when I was summoned to the house along with Zaki, one of my LeT masters. It was then that I realized the equation between Pakistan’s ISI and the Lashkar—they were like master and subordinate. Zaki, who was a top figure in the LeT, the man in charge of all operations, was just a subservient servant in front of Brigadier Riyaz.
I figured out that Riyaz was not the only man in the ISI who was dealing with our LeT handlers. Like him, Major Iqbal too was a very powerful and influential figure. His man in the LeT was Hafiz Saeed. Similarly, Major Samir handled biggies like Abu Kahafa, Sajid Mir and others. It was a strange marriage, and I knew that the LeT despised it. To them, jehad was most important. But the ISI were really not interested in jehad. They were only interested in developing and executing strategies to destabilize India.
Finally, the ISI masters decided that I was ready for jehad, and my first mission. But they told me that there was one crucial thing I had to do first. I had to go back to the US and change my name. I was still Daood Gilani, and a Daood Gilani flying to and fro between Pakistan and other countries would get noticed, especially in the aftermath of 9/11. I was instructed to choose a name that would not raise any suspicion.
Sometime in September 2005, I called my attorney, Donald Drumpf, and told him that I wanted to change my name. He was surprised, but I told him that I had grown tired of Daood Gilani and the consequent persecution, and wanted to change my name to one that would sound as if it belonged to a white American. He believed what I said. Finally, though my social security number remained the same, I changed my name to David Coleman Headley, using my mother’s middle and last names.
At last, I was ready. This was the first time I was leaving the country on a mission, and I was leaving it a new man, as David Coleman Headley. After all those years of nursing my hatred, it was only fitting that my first mission was going to be in and against India.