As the Obama administration amps up pressure on the Pakistani government to expel the Taliban, the FBI is heading to that unstable country to investigate its military's links to a pair of alleged Chicago-based terrorists.
The federal investigation comes after two Chicago-area men were arrested in connection with a Danish terror plot and subsequently linked to the November 2008 terror attacks in Mumbai, India. That link included an association with a retired Pakistani army officer — highlighting long-held fears of Pakistan's central role in global extremism.
David Coleman Headley, an American of Pakistani descent, was arrested in Chicago in October and accused of planning an attack on a Danish newspaper after it ran cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad. On Monday, he also was accused of conducting extensive surveillance on potential targets in the Indian city of Mumbai before the terrorist attacks there in November 2008 that left 166 people dead.
The U.S. charges said Headley, who changed his name from Daood Gilani, had attended militant training camps in Pakistan and conspired with members of the Pakistan-based militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba to launch terrorist attacks in India.
A retired major in the Pakistani military identified as Abdur Rehman Hashim Syed also was charged Monday with conspiring to attack the Danish newspaper and its employees, according to U.S. court documents. Pakistan's army has confirmed it has a retired major in custody for questioning over alleged links with Headley and a co-defendant but officials declined to give more details.
Pakistan's role in the plot that allegedly spanned three countries has increasingly come into focus as new details emerge about the case and Headley's links to the country.
The country's security agencies have a long history of supporting Lashkar and other militant groups as proxies against the much larger Indian army in the disputed region of Kashmir. Islamabad says it no longer does this, but many powerful Pakistani politicians and army officers are believed to remain sympathetic to the militant cause, raising concerns they could be potential recruits for al-Qaida.
U.S. Embassy spokesman Rick Snelsire said Tuesday that a team from the FBI and the U.S. Justice Department will brief Pakistani security officials about the probe into an alleged plot against Denmark and India.
American investigators "have been consulting closely with Pakistani authorities on this case and are working with them on following up on leads related to Headley's activities and connections in Pakistan," he told The Associated Press in an e-mail.
Headley could be sentenced to death if convicted on the charges involving the terrorist attacks in Mumbai. Headley's attorney, John T. Theis, said he would "continue to look at this and see what the evidence is," but declined to comment further.
Headley and Chicago businessman Tahawwur Rana, 48, a Canadian national, were charged in October with plotting to attack Denmark's Jyllands Posten newspaper.
Federal prosecutors said at the time of his arrest that Headley admitted his role in a plot against the newspaper and that he had received training from Lashkar-e-Taiba. Authorities in Washington said Headley has cooperated with investigators in both the Danish and Indian plots since his arrest.
A two-count complaint against the retired Pakistani major was filed under seal Oct. 20. It says he coordinated surveillance of the Danish newspaper and participated in planning the attack there along with Lashkar-e-Taiba and al-Qaida linked Ilyas Kashmiri — described as a leader of the terrorist group Harakat-ul Jihad Islami.
Authorities say Headley visited Pakistan in January and at that time, Abdur Rehman took him to western areas of the country where a number of terrorist groups have allegedly found refuge. The aim was to solicit Kashmiri's help in launching the attack against the Danish paper, the charges say. A search of Headley's luggage at the time of his arrest turned up a list of phone numbers including one allegedly used to contact Abdur Rehman.