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American who plotted ‘India’s 9/11’ gets 35 years in prison

David Coleman Headley | ABC7

David Coleman Headley | ABC7

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Updated: February 26, 2013 6:23AM

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.

“I know what a bullet could do to every part of the human body. I know the sound of life leaving a 13-year-old child. These are things I never needed to know, never needed to experience,” Ragsdale said in a wavering voice staring at the terrorist who locked his eyes — one brown, one blue — on the floor.

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.”

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.

Ragsdale said she remembered the gunfire flash by as she and others hid under the table and saw 13-year-old Naomi Scherr and her father Alan take their last breaths in the devastating carnage.

“Together we faced all of this while you faced a TV screen,” Ragsdale said, referencing Headley’s account of how he watched the three-day bloodshed unfold in front of a television in Lahore, Pakistan.

Earlier Thursday, former U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald joined prosecutor Daniel Collins, who asked for a 30-to-35-year sentence, to highlight the assistance Headley provided in dissecting a complex international terror web. Headley’s attorney John Theis went a step further to say the “profound” information his client volunteered “saved” lives all over the world.

Outside of court, Headley’s other lawyer, Robert Seeder, assured reporters, “Mr. Headley’s [sealed] letter to the judge expressed his sincere remorse and it was voluminous and it was very clear. He did explain in that letter what led him to this and how sorry he was. I think we’ll leave it at that.”

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.”

Headley, made headlines when he testified at the 2011 trial of his Northwest Side pal and co-defendant Tawahhur Rana.

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.

Rana, 52, was sentenced last week to 14 years in prison for helping Headley plan the Denmark attack and assisting Lakshar.

Authorities Thursday said they hoped there was “some measure of comfort” for Indians here and overseas.

But that didn’t give much relief to Rich Jeswani. Jeswani’s Chicagoan cousin, Sandeep “Sam” Jeswani, was one of the nearly 170 killed in Mumbai.

“He should have gotten life,” Rich Jeswani said of Headley, who was born to an American mother and a Pakistani father who worked for the Voice of America.

“He cooperated because of fear. It’s not just about my cousin. We lost many lives in India.”

Om Arora, 71, who owns Uma Sarees on Devon Avenue, said the sentence was “very, very” fair.

“He [Headley] deserves it for what he has done. I think the chapter is closed [in the U.S].” India and Pakistan “have to do their own part.”

Contributing: Becky Schlikerman

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