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December 07, 2009

Was there an al Qaida link to Mumbai?

You have to wonder after reading the new charges filed in Chicago against David Coleman Headley, the Pakistan-born American citizen who was charged in October with planning an attack on the Danish newspaper that published the cartoons depicting Mohammed. In today's charges, Headley is accused of having provided the intelligence for last year's Mumbai attack. And his involvement was hardly in passing.

Federal prosecutors describe a plot that was years in the making. Headley was first tasked to travel to India from the United States to begin surveillance in 2005 for the October 2008 attack. His first step: Change his name from Daood Gilani to David Headley, so he'd stand out less. Then he reported to a contact in Chicago that he'd been told to travel to India by Lakshar e Tayyiba, a Pakistani terrorist group. All told, he traveled to India five times between September 2006 and July 2008, each time providing video surveillance of locations that became the focus of the terrorist attacks.

You can read the charges against Headley here.

The U.S. attorney in Chicago also filed charges against a retired Pakistani army major, Abdur Rehman Hashim Syed, claiming Abdur Rehman had been the go-between in Pakistan in the Damish newspaper attack plan for which Headley was indicted. The charges, which you can read here, have Abdur Rehman in close contact with Ilyas Kashmiri, a Pakistani terrorist with links to al Qaida. He even arranged a meeting between Headley and Kashmiri.

There is no explicit linking of al Qaida to the Mumbai attack in either document, and Lakshar e Tayyiba could be perfectly capable of carrying out the attack on its own. But the years of planning for Mumbai recalls al Qaida's reputation for lengthy and detailed preparation and Kashmiri's appearance this year in a plot that relied on the same American citizen to surveil the target certainly raises the question.

Headley, by the way, is cooperating, according to the U.S. attorney's office in Chicago.

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