Trial Testimony Reveals Mindset of Confessed Mumbai Terrorist


June 6, 2011

During five days as the star witness in a federal terrorism trial in Chicago, David Coleman Headley revealed details of what he described as his links to both Pakistan’s intelligence service — the ISI — and the terrorist organization Lashkar-i-Taiba. He also presented a portrait of himself as a man whose double life depended on lying and manipulating his wives, colleagues and closest friends.

The trial provided the first public view of Headley, a Pakistani-American who was once a DEA informant, since his arrest and confession to having played a key role in a 2008 terror attack in Mumbai. Speaking in a low, scratchy voice tinged with just the slightest Pakistani accent, Headley testified against his childhood friend Tahawwur Rana, charged with supporting Headley’s involvement in terror plots in Mumbai and Copenhagen.

In testimony in Chicago, Headley said that at the time the Mumbai attack, which killed 166 people, gave him the satisfaction of revenge for Pakistani deaths in the decades-long conflict with India. But almost three years later he professed a remorse about the civilian deaths. “I have regrets,” he said. “I have had time to reflect.”

FRONTLINE and ProPublica have spent six months so far investigating Headley’s connections to terrorism, and ProPublica’s Sebastian Rotella has been reporting from the courtroom.

One of the top Pakistani militants linked to Al Qaeda and an alleged contact of Headley’s, Ilyas Kashmiri, was reported killed last week in an American drone strike. But U.S. and Pakistani officials were reportedly awaiting confirmation of his death.

Headley’s public appearance has been long awaited, especially by observers in India and Denmark, sites of his plots. The defense in the case played brief segments of his videotaped interrogation with FBI agents, showing Headley eager to talk about what he knew — perhaps because, after striking a deal to save him from the death penalty, his life literally depended on it. Rotella describes the scene in court:

Tom Jennings is producing a documentary on David Coleman Headley scheduled to air on FRONTLINE on Nov, 22, 2011.

More Stories

As Donald Trump Announces His 2024 Run, a Look Back at His Presidency and Impact
FRONTLINE has built a unique public record, in documentary format, of the former president’s impact on American life, politics and democracy — and his previous battles with a special counsel and the Department of Justice.
November 16, 2022
How American Politics Reached This Fraught Moment: 12 Documentaries to Watch Ahead of the Midterms
As a divided America prepares to vote and fears of political violence continue, these FRONTLINE documentaries show how U.S. politics reached this moment.
November 4, 2022
How Russian Soldiers Ran a "Cleansing" Operation in Bucha
"I’ve already killed so many civilians,” a Russian soldier told his wife from Bucha, Ukraine. The Associated Press and FRONTLINE obtained hundreds of hours of CCTV footage and intercepts of audio calls by Russian soldiers that show for the first time what a Russian "cleansing" operation looked like.
November 3, 2022
‘The Story Putin Doesn’t Want Told’: Filmmakers Talk About ‘Putin’s War at Home’ Documentary
Gesbeen Mohammad and Vasiliy Kolotilov talk about the making of the FRONTLINE documentary “Putin’s War at Home,” which tells the story of Russians defying their government's crackdown on critics of the war in Ukraine.
November 1, 2022