A mysterious 'Rahul' appears to have been the prime target of Chicago resident David Coleman Headley, nabbed by the FBI for planning to carry out a major terror attack in India this month at the behest of Pakistan-based LeT.
Headley, arrested earlier this month, had made several trips to India and intended to stay in the country for some time--two to four weeks--to execute the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) plans, according to US investigators.
49-year-old Headley was arrested alongwith a Canadian citizen of Pakistani origin by FBI's joint terrorism task force at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport before boarding a flight to Philadelphia, intending to travel to Pakistan.
According to an affidavit filed by FBI in a Chicago court, Headley in an e-mail on July eight to a senior LeT leader whose name has not been revealed but who has been identified as 'LeT individual A', said, "I think when we get a chance we should revisit our last location again and say Hi to Rahul".
Following his arrest, Headley has stated that the reference was to "Rahul", a prominent Indian actor with that first name, the FBI said in its complaint.
Intelligence sources in New Delhi discounted speculation that the reference could have been to Congress leader Rahul Gandhi. In such cases, US security agencies immediately alert their Indian counterparts and there had been no such alert, the sources said.
The sources said that in the past US counter-terrorism agencies had tipped off India about the terror plots against VVIPs.
The sources wondered whether 'Rahul' was codename for some other VIP target. They are awaiting details of the FBI case in Chicago court.
US Ambassador to India Timothy Roemer refused to divulge details of the case saying, "we cannot comment on the ongoing investigations and judicial proceedings". He described the arrest of the two persons by FBI as an "important breakthrough".
Responding to Headley's July 8 e-mail, the Lashkar leader said, "to see Rahul is a good idea coz (because) have some work for you over there too. Matters are good enough to move forward".
Not satisfied with the response, Headley wrote back on July 9, "when you say 'move forward' do you mean in the north direction or towards Rahul ?" The leader clarified that move forward meant 'towards Rahul'.
Headley wrote another mail to the leader on July 10 seeking clarifications on "status of the northern project" and whether the visit to "Rahul's place" was for checking out "real estate property like before or something different".
Other questions asked by Headley included, "how long do you think I will need to stay at Rahul's place to complete this task" and "will I have to stay there continuously for a while, or back and forth, like before".
The same day, the LeT leader responded, "there are some investment plans with me, not exactly at Rahul's city but near that. Rest we can decide when we meet according to your ease".
In one of the e-mails, Headley asked the leader as to how long the "India project" is going to take, to which the latter responded, "between two to four weeks".
Headley replied on July 18 that "I think, I can manage it" and that he would be available in October.
The FBI agent in the criminal complaint concluded that since the beginning of 2009 LeT was placing a high priority on using Headley to assist in planning a new attack in India than on completing a terror attack on a Danish newspaper that had published cartoons of the Prophet in 2005.
Headley, who had changed his name to 'Daood Gilani in 2006 so that there is less suspicion during his travels to India and Pakistan, was arrested along with the Pakistani-Canadian Tahawar Rana, also a resident of Chicago.
Rana, who was arrested by the FBI on October 18, was the owner of several businesses with offices in Chicago, New York and Toronto.
According to the FBI affidavit, Headley was in close contact with several unidentified leaders of LeT and with Ilyas Kashmiri, said to be the operational chief of Pak-occupied Kashmir section of Harkat-ul-Jihad Islami (HuJI), a terrorist organisation with links to al Qaeda.
SAccording to the FBI complaint, Headley had engaged in extensive international travel since at least 2006, including multiple trips to Pakistan, India, Denmark and other countries in Europe.
"Records reflecting the locations of internet protocol addresses used by Headley to send emails indicate that Headley has spent substantial time in Pakistan and elsewhere during the past several years often for months at a time," the complaint said.
Though there is no indication of how much time Headley spent in India and where all did he visit, it is clear from the affidavit that the LeT had drafted an American national to execute its next major terrorist attack in India; which now appears to have been busted by the FBI.
The FBI says that the "LeT Individual A" was arrested by Pakistani authorities this summer, but was later released by them.
"Lashkar-e-Taiba member A, whose identity is known to the government, is an individual with substantial influence and responsibility within Lashkar-e-Taiba," the FBI said, adding that based in Pakistan, LeT focus area is primarily India.
The FBI said Headley had communicated with LeT Member A through coded messages and through various modes of communication including in-person meetings, telephone conversations (including calls placed using long distance calling cards) and emails.
Headley, in particular, utilized a cell phone, the account of which is the name of a deceased individual.
In addition to coded words like Mickey Mouse Project , mmp , and the northern project , Headley and the LeT leader referred to the plot of attacking a Dannish newspaper, they used several words for their new targets investment , projects , business and action . Since the beginning of 2008, he communicated through multiple email accounts.
According to the complaint, Headley travelled to Pakistan early this year, in particular to the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA).
In one of his email, as traced by FBI, Headley refers to his visit to Miranshah in Razmak region of Waziristan where Iliyas Kashmiri had established a training camp. This bazaar (in Miranshah) is bustling with Chechens, Uzbeks, Tajiks, Russians, Bosnians, some from EU countries and of course our Arab brothers, he wrote. PTI