A major row is heating up between India and the United States over David Coleman Headley, the Chicagoan terrorist of Pakistani descent who scouted targets for the Mumbai outrage which left 166 dead in November 2008. The trouble between New Delhi and Washington has veered off in an unexpected direction.
Monday, March 29, India's largest paper, The Times of India, published a short article headlined "Who Paid David Coleman Headley's Credit Card Bill?"
(See also DEBKA-Net-Weekly 422 of Nov. 20, 2009: "A Chicago Master-Cell Plots Attacks in India and Denmark")
The question of who paid Headley's international credit bills is at the heart of a widening probe which reveals that he spent at least Rs 20-25 crore (equivalent to $20-25,000) through these credit cards while traveling through India on his scouting missions for the Pakistani Lashkar-e-Taiba and other al Qaeda associates. According to this newspaper, Indian intelligence investigators have discovered a new practice, whereby terrorist operatives are given international credit cards individually. On their travels through India, they withdraw money for their activities and pay the bills for their stay.
Such cards are issued in the US, Canada, Dubai, Nepal and Bangladesh and the bills are picked up by their handlers based in these countries.
The credit cards used by Headley to withdraw cash in Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore and Hyderabad during 2008 and 2009 were traced by Indian security agencies. According to the paper, the Indian government has contacted the countries of their issue to find out who picked up the bills and thus identify those handlers.
Was Headley a double agent?
The paper doesn't say this, but its brief report suggests India suspects that counter-terrorism officials in US intelligence must have had foreknowledge of the Mumbai terrorist attack in 2008.
They find it hard to believe that US terror experts were ignorant of the Headley's role as key man in the planning and selection of targets for the attack and the dispatch of the LeT terrorists for its execution.
These suspicions have led New Delhi to the supposition that Headley was a double or triple agent working for
US intelligence, Pakistani's Inter-Services (military) Intelligence – ISI and also al Qaeda.
While Washington did indeed tip off Indian intelligence to the impending Mumbai attack two months in advance, the Indians now suspect that it withheld information which could have prevented the attack so as not to expose Headley.
New Delhi became even more suspicious in the third week of March, when a plea bargain between the US Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois and Headley guaranteed he would not be extradited to India and his testimony would be classified. India's repeated applications for access to the suspect for direct questioning is now being fobbed off by the US explanation that the case falls under the jurisdiction of the American judicial system and only a presiding judge can rule on their application.
ISI hand seen behind attacks on Indians in Kabul
So loaded has the issue become for the Indian public and so disgruntled its intelligence and security chiefs that Saturday, March 27, External Affairs Minister S. M. Krishna felt compelled to issue a calming statement: "Well, I think the push is just enough with efforts in regard to the United States. As I said, we have a strategic partner in the United States so I am sure, today or tomorrow, if not today, at least later, I think, we will have our chance to interrogate Headley."
The Indian minister did not sound overly optimistic.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly's counter-terrorism sources report that the Indians also have a serious bone to pick with Islamabad. They are certain the February 26 attack on two hotels in Kabul, in which 10 Indians were killed, was planned and organized by the Pakistani ISI, which has in the past been accused of using Lashkar-e-Taibe on covert missions against Indian targets.
Among the dead were two Indian army majors and eight locals and nationals from other countries. Five Indian army officers were among the wounded. The attackers went for guest houses used by aid workers and singled out the Park Residence rented by the Indian Embassy for its staffers and for Indian personnel employed in development projects in Afghanistan.
On March 2, Saeed Ansari, a spokesman for Afghanistan's intelligence service, disclosed that his agency had evidence that Pakistanis, specifically LeT, were involved in the attacks.
"We are very close to the exact proof and evidence that the attack on the Indian guest house… is not the work of the Afghan Taliban, but this attack was carried out by the Lashkar-e-Toiba network, who are dependent on the Pakistan military."
The Indian Ambassador in Kabul, Jayant Prasad, commented: "It was a 26/11 (Mumbai) type of attack."
Lashkar-e-Taibe chief surfaces to threaten more attacks
DEBKA-Net-Weekly's counter-terrorism sources report that on March 23, Pakistan-based jihadist organizations organized a conference in the town of Kotli in Pakistani Kashmir.
Among the speakers were two prominent jihadist commanders – Syed Salahuddin and Abdul Wahid Kashmiri.
Salahuddin is Supreme Commander of Hizbul Mujahideen, one of the Islamist groups fighting Indian security forces in the Jammu & Kashmir state, and also head of the Muttahida Jihad Council, a network of nearly two dozen Pakistan-based militant organizations.
Wahid Kashmiri is commander of LeT. He surfaced for the first time in a decade at the Kotli meeting to pledge jihad against India and declare: "Mujahideen fighting the Occupation forces in Iraq, Afghanistan, Palestine and Kashmir are fully justified."
Strategic planners in New Delhi are certain more terrorist attacks against Indian targets are on the way and accuse Washington of deliberately turning a blind eye to this volatile situation.
A senior Indian security sources told DEBKA-Net-Weekly's military sources: "Sooner or later, these terror attacks will spark the outbreak of an all-out war between New Delhi and Islamabad. When this war erupts, it will encompass the entire Indian subcontinent, including Pakistan."