Linda Ragsdale looked straight at David Coleman Headley Thursday and told him of the bloody destruction he helped unleash at a luxury hotel in Mumbai, leaving her with a bullet wound and “unbearable” emotional scars.
The Nashville, Tenn. woman was enjoying a meal with her meditation group when a “boy” no older than her own son sprayed The Oberoi hotel with bullets and grenades, killing a Virginia man, his teenage daughter, and countless others.
Headley on Thursday was sentenced to 35 years in prison for his role in the 2008 Mumbai attacks and a foiled plot targeting a Danish newspaper that published controversial cartoons of the prophet Muhammad.
Although U.S. District Judge Harry Leinenweber said Headley, 52, deserves life in prison, the judge said he had to take in account his extensive cooperation with U.S. authorities since pleading guilty following his 2009 arrest at O’Hare Airport.
Headley, who wore a gray sweat suit and black New Balance gym shoes, told the judge in a letter that he was “capable of change,” valued “American” ways and re-read the Islamic scriptures he said were taken out of context when he was swayed by Lashkar-e-Taiba — the Pakistan-based militant organization responsible for “India’s 9/11.”
Taken out of context? He is unrepentant.
But Leinenweber said he didn’t have “faith” that the former heroin addict had been transformed and said Headley should be “under lock and key.”
The damage that was done was “unfathomable to the people who survived. Perhaps the lucky ones were the ones who didn’t survive,” the judge said.
Ragsdale was the only victim who testified in court Thursday. She addressed Headley by his given name of Daood Gilani and “not the name he masqueraded” in as he plotted the South Asian attack.
Headley admitted acting as a scout for the Mumbai attack and the thwarted plot in Europe while posing as the emissary of Rana’s Chicago-based travel business. While on the stand, he also told tales of how he charmed the likes of extremists, members of the right wing Hindu group Shiv Sena and the son of a prominent Bollywood director while he did his scheming in India.
Though specifics of Headley’s help to U.S. and Indian investigators were detailed only in a sealed court filing, publicly available court papers state that he gave valuable information on Lakshar’s leadership, its planned future terror targets and top-ranking al-Qaida terrorist Ilyas Kashmiri, before Kashmiri’s 2011 death in a drone strike.
Headley and Rana grew up together in Pakistan and remained close, even after Rana moved to Canada and later Chicago, evidence showed.
Acting U.S. Attorney Gary Shapiro said U.S. and foreign officials hope to continually glean more from Headley so others can be prosecuted in the future. Should he refuse, the plea agreement that keeps Headley from being extradited to India would be voided, Shapiro said.
“The number of cooperators you get in terrorism cases is vanishingly small. The object of this exercise for us here in Chicago was to try to balance between the horrific nature of the crime and the future investigations we’re going to be conducting, . . .” Shapiro said.
“I don’t know whether Headley’s proclamations of remorse are sincere and quite frankly, I don’t care. What I care about is that he’s been telling us the truth, and it’s been really valuable and I hope in future cases, it’s a beacon.”