‘Disappointed’ with Headley punishment, says govt

FP
India Friday expressed "disappointment" over the 35-year jail term for Lashkar-e-Toiba operative David Coleman Headley, and said it would continue to press for the extradition of both the 52-year-old plotter of the 26/11 attacks and his Pakistani-Canadian accomplice Tahawwur Rana.

Besides the Mumbai attack, the National Investigation Agency (NIA) is also probing Headley's role in carrying out reconnaissance for planned terrorist attacks on the National Defence College in Delhi and in Pushkar in Rajasthan, which he did on visits to India made after the November 2008 attacks.

Officials said that Headley's plea bargain with US authorities on the Mumbai attacks ought not to stand in the way of his extradition for post-26/11 crimes. "The US has received our extradition request, we need to discuss the clauses under which a trial can be held, and convince them of his role," a senior home ministry official said.

The NIA is also learnt to have asked the ministry to raise with the Americans the matter of getting access to Rana and other witnesses. Rana got 14 years last week for his role in the terrorist plot to hit a Danish newspaper, but was not convicted in the Mumbai attacks case.

External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid said Friday that Headley would have got "harsher punishment" had he been tried in India, and added that New Delhi was "disappointed".

"If the trial had been held here, the punishment would have been tougher... The US legal system had no provision to extradite him, but we will still try and get him tried in India," Khurshid said. "The 35-year sentencing and what the judge said is a beginning. We understand there are legal procedures in the US, but neverthless, the position we have, the request (for extradition) that we have made remains intact," he added.

Union Home Secretary R K Singh said, "We want death sentence for Headley and those who were involved in the Mumbai attack. We will keep asking for his death sentence. Headley was involved not only in the Mumbai conspiracy, but he also carried out recce in other places. Our request for his extradition stands."

BJP spokesperson Rajiv Pratap Rudy said his party would "accept nothing short of extradition", and that "no Indian can settle for less than death sentence for Headley".

A statement from the US embassy, however, said the 35-year sentence "reflects both severe punishment for Headley's role in the heinous 26/11 crimes and a decision by the US Department of Justice not to seek the death penalty". It said Headley had provided information that was of "substantial value in our efforts to combat international terrorism and to save lives", and had testified against co-conspirator Rana.

Besides assisting US investigators in bringing criminal charges against five other terrorists, Headley had provided authorities with details about the structure, personnel, methods, abilities and plans of the Lashkar-e-Toiba, the statement said.

"The US and India counter-terrorism cooperation is stronger than ever... We are working together to see that those responsible for 26/11 and other acts of terrorism are brought to justice, wherever they may be," it said.

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