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Mumbai Attacks: ‘Frontline’ Looks at What U.S. Knew About Informant

Watch A Perfect Terrorist Preview on PBS. See more from FRONTLINE.


The bloody three-day siege in Mumbai in 2008 was one of the most high-profile terrorist attacks since 9/11. American David Coleman Headley, who helped plan the attack, is the subject of a Frontline and ProPublica documentary airing Tuesday on PBS.

After Headley’s 2009 arrest for helping plan the assault, questions sprang up about what U.S. officials knew about his terrorist inclinations, based on his associations with the government.

Reporter Sebastian Rotella describes Headley’s path to terrorist organization Lashkar-e-Taiba while serving as an informant for the U.S. government.

Headley was born in Washington, D.C., to a Pakistani father and American mother. In the mid-1990s, he was arrested for dealing heroin in New York. He later became an informant for the Drug Enforcement Agency, and was reportedly traveling to Pakistan for terror training at the same time.

The Mumbai assault began on Nov. 26, 2008, when 10 heavily armed men drove speedboats onto Mumbai’s shores and gunned down victims at the Taj Mahal Palace, the Oberoi Hotel, the Leopold Cafe, a community center for Orthodox Jews called Chabad House, and a major train station.

Three days later, police and Indian security forces were able to secure the last of the sites and kill the remaining attackers. In total, 166 people died, including six Americans. One gunman was taken alive and disclosed that the perpetrators were part of the Pakistani-based group Lashkar-e-Taiba, considered a terrorist organization by India, Pakistan and the United States, among other countries.

The militant group had long battled India over the disputed areas of Jammu and Kashmir. Some regional analysts say it has received help and protection from Pakistan’s main spy agency, known as Inter-Services Intelligence, or ISI, which Pakistan denies.

NewsHour special correspondent Simon Marks traveled to India soon after the siege to see how its residents were handling the tragic event.

It later came out that the ringleader of the Mumbai attacks was a Pakistani known as Sajid Mir. One of his scouts was Pakistani-American Daood Gilani, who later changed his name to David Coleman Headley.

In October 2009, Headley was arrested for helping Lashkar-e-Taiba plot the Mumbai assault and for planning to attack a Danish newspaper for publishing cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad.

He ended up pleading guilty to avoid the death penalty and also agreed to provide authorities with information about other terrorist activities. He could face up to life in prison and a $3 million fine.

As more information came out about Headley and Lashkar last year, Rotella provided an update on the NewsHour.

Reporter Sebastian Rotella appears again on Tuesday’s NewsHour to give the latest. View all of our World coverage and follow us on Twitter.

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