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ISI agent expanded militants' list of Mumbai targets, trial told

David Headley pleads not guilty before U.S. District Judge Harry Leinenweber on Dec. 9, 2009, in Chicago to charges accusing him of conspiring in the deadly 2008 terrorist attacks in Mumbai and of planning to launch an armed assault on a Danish newspaper. Mr. Headley changed his plea to guilty on March 18, 2010.

Verna Sadock/AP

Insight into how targets were picked for the 2008 Mumbai massacre were revealed in a Chicago court Tuesday, as a terrorist-turned-FBI-informant gave insider's testimony about the planning of the attacks.

In the hope it will spare him the death penalty, David Headley, a 50-year-old convicted terrorist, is giving evidence against a Canadian co-accused, Tahawwur Rana. The proceedings are being watched closely as Mr. Headley exposes the murky links between Pakistan's military-intelligence apparatus and global terrorism.

The white-skinned child of an American mother and Pakistani father, Mr. Headley is an Islamist fundamentalist. His handlers, primarily the Lashkar-e-Taiba terrorist organization, but also a serving Pakistani intelligence official known as "Major Iqbal," groomed him for years before supplying him with a list of targets in June of 2008.

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At the time, Mr. Headley was posing as an immigration consultant in Mumbai while he was secretly mapping out a plan of attack that eventually led to the deaths of 160 people.

Major Iqbal "didn't give me the list, but he told me the Chabad House [a Jewish centre in Mumbai]was to be added to whatever list there was because it was a front office for the Mossad [Israel's spy agency]" Mr. Headley said Tuesday.

He said a Lashkar official, Sajid Mir, gave him instructions to map out the second floor of the Taj Hotel, because Indian defence contractors met in conference rooms there.

Mr. Headley also testified that other Mumbai targets were determined by happenstance. Mumbai's Oberoi Hotel and Leopold Café were simply targets of opportunity, picked by Mr. Headley at random.

The city's central train station was initially considered as a possible exit for the gunmen, but it became a target after planners settled on a suicide mission, or, as Mr. Headley put it, "the stronghold option."

In November of 2008, 10 Lashkar-e-Taiba gunmen stormed these sites in Mumbai, killing 160 people after being given precise instructions on what to do. During the attacks, the handlers in Pakistan coached them via cellphone, telling them to keep shooting and to execute hostages.

"After approaching from behind, place the barrel on the back of their head and fire," one handler said, according to a transcript of an intercepted conversation from the Chabad House that was read in court yesterday.

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Mr. Headley testified Tuesday that terrorist groups in Pakistan were plotting follow-up attacks against Jewish centres in India. He testified he felt he "got even" with India through the Mumbai massacre, resolving grudges dating back to the regional wars of his youth, when, he said, his school was bombed.

After his 2009 arrest in Chicago, Mr. Headley struck a plea deal with U.S. prosecutors. He is now giving evidence against his former best friend and schoolmate, Mr. Rana, a Pakistani-Canadian who runs a Chicago immigration consultancy.

He stands accused of helping Mr. Headley sneak into India to conduct terrorist surveillance.

Mr. Headley testified that he once tried to spare Mr. Rana's life.

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