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By Associated Press, Updated: Thursday, May 26, 9:19 AM
CHICAGO — An admitted American terrorist, the government’s star witness in the trial of a Chicago businessman accused in the deadly 2008 attacks in Mumbai, faces more questions Thursday from defense attorneys seeking to portray their client as the man’s pawn.
Defense attorneys already have started attacking the character of David Coleman Headley, who has testified that his longtime friend Tahawwur Rana assisted him in scoping out targets for the three-day siege that killed more than 160 people in India’s largest city. During three days of testimony, Headley has detailed through emails and recorded conversations how he says Pakistani intelligence and a Pakistani militant group coordinated in planning the attacks.
The testimony from Headley, who was born in the U.S. but spent much of his life in Pakistan, comes at a tense time for U.S.-Pakistan relations, on the heels of the May 2 killing of Osama bin Laden outside Islamabad that raised concerns Pakistan may have been hiding the world’s most wanted terrorist.
During the first day of cross-examination Wednesday, Rana’s defense attorneys drew out details from Headley’s past that included his dropping out of high school, admitted drug use and heroin smuggling conviction, and trying to join the militant Pakistani group Lashkar-e-Taiba while working as an informant for the Drug Enforcement Administration. Meanwhile, Headley testified that Rana was a top student, training to become a doctor and a strict Muslim who didn’t drink alcohol.
“Dr. Rana is in medical school, and you’re flying to Pakistan to be a drug smuggler?” asked Rana defense attorney Charles Swift.
“Yes,” Headley said.
Rana and Headley, both 50, met years ago at a prestigious boarding school in Pakistan and have stayed in touch. Headley testified Wednesday that he had tried to persuade Rana to join Lashkar — which later claimed credit for the Mumbai attacks — but Rana declined because he said he didn’t espouse the beliefs of the group, which is generally made up of ultraconservative Salafi Muslims.
Headley, who said he started working with Lashkar in 2000, has said the group and Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency, known as ISI, operate under the same umbrella. Pakistan has repeated what it’s maintained since 2008, that the ISI had no links to Lashkar.
Rana’s attorneys on Wednesday questioned Headley’s claims that he met regularly and received money from someone he said was an ISI major, known only as “Major Iqbal” and his Lashkar handler Sajid Mir.
“What’s Major Iqbal’s full name?” Swift asked.
“I don’t know it,” Headley answered.
Earlier Wednesday under questioning from prosecutors, Headley testified that Rana praised the attacks where gunmen arrived by boat and stormed the city for three days.
“’Tactically, this was done brilliantly’,” Rana said, according to Headley’s testimony.
Prosecutors also showed video surveillance that Headley took in Copenhagen for a potential attack in Denmark. Headley admitted to helping plan an attack that never happened on a Danish newspaper that in 2005 printed cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad. Rana is also accused in that plot.
All developments were communicated with Rana, Mir and Iqbal, Headley testified.
Iqbal, Mir and Abdur Rehman Hashim Syed are identified by prosecutors as a retired Pakistani military with links to Iqbal. All three, along with three others in Pakistan, are charged in absentia. Rana is the only one on trial.