Chicago Men Helped Plan 2008 Mumbai Terror Attacks; Surveilled Jewish Targets for Pakistani Terror Group
Plot to Attack Danish Newspaper
Posted: December 10, 2009
David Coleman Headley pleaded guilty on March 18, 2010, to helping plan a terrorist attack against the offices and employees of a Danish newspaper that had previously printed controversial cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad.
Headley was originally charged with conspiracy to commit murder and maim in a foreign country and with providing material support to terrorists in a criminal complaint unsealed in a Chicago federal court on October 27, 2009. That same day, federal authorities unsealed a criminal complaint against Tahawwur Rana for conspiracy to provide material support to a foreign terrorism conspiracy. Prosecutors added an additional charge against Rana the next day for providing material support to terrorist acts, and on January 14, 2010, a superseding indictment added another charge of providing material support to the Denmark terrorism plot.
According to court documents, Rana, a Canadian citizen from Pakistan, allegedly helped arrange Headley's travels to Denmark in January and July 2009 to conduct surveillance of potential targets for a terrorist attack. Headley, an American citizen, visited two different offices of Jyllands-Posten, a Danish newspaper that published cartoons in September 2005 depicting the Prophet Muhammad, causing controversy in Muslim communities.
The cartoons offended many Muslims and triggered riots and violent protests in Europe, Southeast Asia and the Middle East. In the Palestinian territories, for example, Hamas leader Mahmoud Zahar issued a death threat against those responsible for the cartoons, and protesters in Damascus set fire to the Danish embassy.
In his plea agreement, Headley admitted that he falsely told Jyllands-Posten employees that he was a consultant for First World Immigration Services, an immigration company owned by Rana. To further strengthen his cover story, Headley told newspaper employees that he was interested in placing an advertisement about the business, which he claimed was considering opening up offices in Denmark, in the newspaper.
As stated in his plea agreement, Headley discussed the plot against the Danish newspaper with at least three people in Pakistan, including an unnamed member of Lashkar-e-Taiba (LET), a Pakistani-based terrorist organization linked to Al Qaeda, and Abdur Rehman Hashim Syed, a retired major from the Pakistani military who is associated with LET. Headley also reported his overseas surveillance to Ilyas Kashmiri, an operational chief for Harakat ul-Jihad-i-Islami, another Pakistani-based terrorist organization, who regularly communicated with senior members of Al Qaeda.
Court documents stated that Headley was introduced to Kashmiri in 2009 by Syed, who allegedly solicited Kashmiri in planning the attack against the Danish newspaper. During the meeting, Kashmiri told Headley that the attackers should prepare martyrdom videos for the suicide mission against the Danish newspaper. Kashmiri also suggested that the attackers should behead the captives and throw their heads out of the newspaper's offices to "heighten the response from Danish authorities," according to Headley's plea agreement.
Syed has since been charged in an Illinois federal court with conspiracy to murder and maim in a foreign country and providing material support to terrorists. On January 14, 2010, both Syed and Kashmiri were charged with additional counts of conspiracy to murder and main persons in Denmark and conspiracy to providing material support to the Danish terrorism plot.
Headley admitted that Syed provided him with an Al Qaeda video – which he later gave to Rana – that called for attacks against Danish interests as revenge for publishing the cartoons. Authorities searching Rana's home recovered a DVD entitled "Bombing of Denmark Embassy," which focuses primarily on the controversial cartoons and explicitly calls for violent action against Denmark. The nearly 55-minute video, narrated by Al Qaeda spokesman Abu Yahya al-Libi, features Al Qaeda's leader in Afghanistan Mustafa Abu al-Yazid and was produced by Al Sahab, Al Qaeda's media wing. "Strong comments then followed from the narrators, condemning the United States, Denmark and the Jewish people, among others, for a litany of perceived outrages," according to court documents.
Headley allegedly corresponded with Syed and the LET member in coded communications, some of which were in Urdu, about the "Mickey Mouse Project," which the affidavits sited as the plot to attack the facilities and employees of Jyllands-Posten. In other coded messages, Headley referred to the plot against the Danish newspaper as "mmp" and "the northern project."
In additional e-mail exchanges during the summer of 2009, the LET member allegedly asked Headley to assist in planning a terrorist attack in India, where LET had conducted a terrorist attack the previous year. Headley allegedly decided to continue planning the attack on the Danish newspaper instead of working with LET on the new plot. If no one could assist him, he later told Rana, then he would perform the planned attack himself.
According to the affidavits, Headley allegedly traveled to Pakistan to meet with the LET associate and Kashmiri following his 2009 trip to Denmark. Before his return to Chicago, Headley e-mailed Rana with instructions "in case of my death or in case I am incapacitated for some reason."
Headley, who had previously posted messages in an online forum expressing his desire to attack the Danish cartoonists and others he identified "as making fun of Islam," later suggested killing Jyllands-Posten's cultural editor and cartoonist instead of attacking the newspaper's offices in Copenhagen, according to the affidavits. Headley, who was falsely told that the editor was Jewish, also conducted surveillance of a nearby synagogue.
Headley was arrested on October 3, 2009, at the Chicago O'Hare International Airport while boarding a plane to Philadelphia, with the intention of continuing to Pakistan to deliver approximately 13 surveillance videos taken in Denmark to Kashmiri and other co-conspirators. Federal agents searching Headley's luggage recovered a memory stick containing the videos of Copenhagen, including the Jyllands-Posten building, a nearby synagogue, a Danish military barracks and Copenhagen's central train station.
Federal authorities also recovered a book entitled "How to Pray Like a Jew," a Copenhagen street guide and an airline reservation, which the affidavits alleged was made by Rana, to fly to Copenhagen at the end of October. Following his arrest, Headley allegedly admitted to federal agents that he had received training from LET and worked for the Pakistani-based terrorist organization.