Sentencing today for Chicago man in Mumbai terror attack

A man convicted in the 2008 terror attacks in Mumbai will be sentenced in Chicago Thursday. ( WGN - Chicago)

David Coleman Headley, an admitted terrorist with links to al-Qaida who helped plot the 2008 massacre in Mumbai, is scheduled to be sentenced today at Chicago’s federal courthouse.

Headley, 52,  who is to be sentenced amid heightened security measures in U.S. District Judge Harry Leinenweber’s courtroom, faces up to life in prison. He pleaded guilty to scouting out sites to be targeted in the terrorist attack that killed more than 160 people – including six Americans -- in India’s largest city. He also admitted playing a similar role in an aborted plot to storm a Danish newspaper and behead staffers in retaliation for printing a cartoon of the Prophet Muhammad.

Federal prosecutors have cited Headley’s extraordinary cooperation for seeking a sentence of 30 to 35 years in prison.

Headley, who agreed to cooperate on the day of his arrest at O’Hare International Airport as he prepared to fly overseas, detailed the inner-workings of Lashkar-e-Taiba, the Pakistani terror organization that planned the Mumbai attacks. His information led to charges against seven terrorist figures, including his childhood friend from a Pakistani school, Tahawwur Rana, a former Chicago businessman.

Headley was the key witness at the trial of Rana, who was convicted of aiding the Denmark plot and providing support to Lashkar.  Judge Leinenweber sentenced him  last week to 14 years in prison, about half what prosecutors sought.

Headley, an American citizen of Pakistani descent,  came to the United States at age 17 and was twice convicted of drug smuggling in the late 1980s. He later agreed to work as an informant for the DEA. Headley also revealed during testimony  at Rana’s trial that there was an overlap between his work for the DEA and his early days with Lashkar.

Headley became involved with Lashkar, a radical group that opposes Indian rule in divided Kashmir, around 2000, attending training camps between 2002 and 2005. He had moved to Chicago by 2009 and reconnected with Rana.

Though embraced by Rana’s family, Headley lived a very different life that included multiple wives and apparently indoctrinating even his children with his ideologies. His 5-year-old son once dropped to the ground in a Chicago park and pretended to fire a weapon after a soccer coach yelled "shoot, shoot!" to him during a game, Headley testified at Rana’s trial.

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