26/11 Mumbai attacks: David Headley turns approver, pardoned

Published Dec 11, 2015, 7:47 am IST
Updated Mar 26, 2019, 7:03 pm IST
Headley appeared before additional sessions judge G.A. Sanap via a video link.
Pakistani-American terrorist David Coleman Headley
 Pakistani-American terrorist David Coleman Headley

Mumbai: A sessions court in Mumbai on Thursday granted pardon to Pakistani-American terrorist David Coleman Headley in the 2008 Mumbai terror attack case, allowing him to turn approver — a witness for the prosecution — in the case. This, the prosecution hopes, will help it get direct and strong evidence against the conspirators in this matter.

Headley appeared before additional sessions judge G.A. Sanap via a video link and, when judge asked him his identity, he stated, “I am Dawood Geelani, alias David Coleman Headley, and my age is 55 years.”


After this, special public prosecutor Ujjwal Nikam explained to Headley the charges against him, including charges of involvement in the 26/11 Mumbai attacks conspiracy.

Later, when the additional sessions judge asked Headley if he wanted to state anything in this case, Headley replied in the affirmative, saying, “I have reviewed the charging documents filed against me in this court. It charges me with the same conduct for which I was charged in the United States of America. I pled guilty to the charges in the US and I admitted that I was a participant in these charges. I accepted responsibility for my role in these offences in my plea agreement. I also agreed to make myself available as a witness in this court. I appeared here ready to answer questions regarding these events if I receive pardon from this court.”

Headley is currently serving a 35-year prison sentence in the US in connection with the Mumbai terror attacks case as he had pleaded guilty before a US court under a plea agreement. Headley told the Mumbai court that the US plea agreement even binds him to become a witness in this case if he is granted a pardon (by the Indian court).

Apart from Headley, seven other people also attended the court proceedings through video-conference. Mark Tellitocci, India Desk officer with the Internal Affairs office of the US Department of Justice; N.K. Mishara, minister (personal and community affairs) at the Indian embassy in Washington DC; and J.S. Parmar, attaché (community affairs) at the Indian embassy appeared from Washington DC. Those who appeared via video link from an undisclosed location in the US were Headley, his lawyers Robert Seer and John Tyse, Department of Justice assistant trial attorney Sarah W and FBI agent Raymundo Nagera.

Headley expressed a desire to turn approver if he was granted pardon in the cases. Mr Nikam made the pardon application to the court. The court granted the prosecution some time to consult the investigating agency about whether they had any objections to making Headley an approver. After consulting the investigating agency, the prosecution informed the court that the investigating agency did not have any objection to Headley being made an approver.

While deciding the pardon application, the judge said, “In my view before considering, or rather before tendering pardon, the court must bear in mind the facts of the case, seriousness of the crime and possible evidence which cannot come in the absence of this accused.”

Additional sessions judge G.A, Sanap noted that it can be seen from perusal of the order of the United States District Court for the Northeastern District of Illinois, which convicted Headley, that the criminal conspiracy could not have reached its logical end without the involvement of Headley, and that Headley’s role is categorically established in the order.

According to the judge, this was one of the aspects to consider while granting a pardon to the accused.

The judge also noted while deciding the pardon plea that the conspiracy to attack India was hatched outside India and that Zabihuddin Ansari, alias Abu Jundal, currently facing trial in this case, is a co-conspirator in the attacks. “There is no direct evidence,” the judge said, adding, “In this case, fortunately for the prosecution, Headley expressed his desire to unfold the larger conspiracy of the 26/11 terror attacks hatched outside India. The evidence of a co-conspirator like Headley could be of immense importance to the case of the prosecution. It is very difficult to get such direct evidence and firsthand account of criminal conspiracy.”

“In my opinion there should not be any hitch in accepting the submissions made by David Headley and tender him pardon (sic),” said judge Sanap. He added, “In my humble opinion if (the application for a pardon) is rejected, it will be difficult to bring on record the direct and best evidence in the case, and hence I am inclined to accept the application for pardon.”

The judge, however, made it clear that the pardon granted to him was conditional and that the conditions included full and true disclosure of all facts leading to the terror conspiracy and also details of all the co-accused involved in this matter and of other accused, and crimes committed in India by him and others as per his knowledge. Headley is also supposed to divulge all the facts he has already revealed before the court in the US.

When the judge asked Headley if he was ready to accept these conditions, his lawyer wrote an undertaking which was signed by his attorneys, as well as Sarah W, assistant attorney in the Department of Justice, district of Illinois. The undertaking, which was read out to the court, said, “I David Headley understood the order and the conditions of the order. I accept the pardon under the terms and conditions of the court.”

The judge has posted the matter for further hearing on February 8, 2016, when Headley would be required to answer questions put to him by public prosecutor Ujjwal Nikam.