In a volte-face, Pakistani-American Lashkar-e-Tayiba operative David Coleman Headley, accused of plotting the 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks and conspiring to target a Danish newspaper, pleaded guilty on Thursday before a US court in Chicago.
49-year-old Headley, who was arrested by the Federal Bureau of Investigation's joint terrorism task force on October 3 2009, told US District Judge Harry Leinenweber that he wanted to change his plea to guilty, in an apparent bid to get a lighter sentence than the maximum death penalty.
Headley, charged on 12-counts, admitted guilty in all of them. Headley, son of a Pakistani diplomat and a Philadelphia socialite, admitted to using his friend Tahawwur Rana's immigration company as a cover for surveillance activities in India and Denmark on behalf of Pakistan-based terrorist groups, including the Lashkar-e-Tayiba.
Wearing an orange jumpsuit with hands and legs shackled, Headley was produced before the court under unprecedented security arrangements. Security forces along with sniffer dogs were deployed around the court. Special metal detector doors were erected at the entrance of the packed court room.
Headley admitted guilty in all six counts of conspiracy involving bombing public places in India, murdering and maiming persons in India and providing material support to foreign terrorist plots and LeT; and six counts of aiding and abetting the murder of US citizens in India. Indian blames LeT for carrying out Mumbai terror attacks in November 2008 that killed 166 people including six Americans.
Headley is also charged with plotting attacks against Danish newspaper 'Jyllands-Posten' which published a blasphemous cartoon of Prophet Mohammad. E
arlier, US media said Headley may be bargaining for life in prison. If convicted, Headley faces maximum death penalty.
However, during half an hour long hearing, prosecution promised that they will not seek death sentence for Headley and he will not be extradited to either India or Pakistan. John Theis, Headley's lawyer, had earlier said his client will plead guilty, but declined to comment on whether he would do so to all the charges against him.
The American terror suspect had got away with a lesser sentence after he was arrested in 1998 for smuggling heroin into the US from Pakistan as he cooperated with the investigation in the case. He was sentenced to less than two years in prison and thereafter went to Pakistan to conduct undercover surveillance operations for the Drug Enforcement Administration. PTI