India demands death for Headley; US defends 35-year jail term

Last Updated: Fri, Jan 25, 2013 14:50 hrs

India expressed disappointment on Friday with the 35-year sentence given to David Headley, a Pakistani-American who admitted his role in the 2008 Mumbai attack, saying he deserved more prison time for the terrorism that killed 166 people in Mumbai.

David Headley was sentenced on Thursday in a U.S. federal court in Chicago. External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid said he would have possibly received a "more serious and severe" sentence had he been tried in India.

"The 35-year sentence is a beginning. We will continue our efforts to ensure that he is extradited and brought to India for trial," Khurshid told reporters.

Headley, 52, was born in the U.S. to a Pakistani father and an American mother and changed his birth name from Daood Gilani. He admitted that he helped plan the attack and videotaped targets that were later attacked.

In the three-day rampage, 10 gunmen from a Pakistani-based militant group fanned out across Mumbai, attacking a crowded train station, a landmark hotel and a Jewish center, among other targets.

Headley was arrested in the U.S. in 2009 and entered into a plea bargain with U.S. investigators under which he provided information about terror networks.

As the lighter sentence for 52-year-old Headley came in for condemnation in the country, Union Home Secretary R K Singh said he and all those who were involved in the 2008 carnage, in which 166 people were killed, should get death penalty.

Reacting to the sentencing of Headley by a Chicago court yesterday, Khurshid said India is "disappointed" since the government wanted him to face trial in India where he would have been awarded "severest sentence."

"If the trial would have 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 told reporters. He, however, said the sentence handed over to Headley was a "beginning".

'All those involved in 26/11 attacks should get death penalty'

The Home Secretary said, "We want death sentence for Headley and those who were involved in killing of 166 people in Mumbai. We will keep asking for his death sentence."

In a statement, the US embassy here defended its decision not to seek death penalty for Headley, saying it was done in view of his willingness to cooperate with law enforcement authorities to help bring the perpetrators to justice and help prevent other terror strikes.

"The 35-year sentence without parole imposed on David Coleman Headley marks another step in US efforts to bring to justice those responsible for the 26/11 Mumbai terrorist attacks. This sentence reflects both severe punishment for Headleys role in the heinous 26/11 crimes and a decision by the US Department of Justice not to seek the death penalty," it said.

This decision was taken because of Headley's willingness to cooperate with law enforcement authorities, it added.

India to continue to press for Headley's extradition

India said on Friday that it will continue to press for the extradition of Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) operative David Headley, sentenced by a US court to 35 years in prison for his role in the 26/11 Mumbai attack, and would have liked harsher punishment.

Ministers, the ruling Congress as well as the opposition BJP said the government should keep trying for the extradition of the Pakistani-American who played a key role in the 26/11 attack.

A day after a Chicago court's ruling, External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid said: "Had we tried him, we would have sought much more."

"We are a little disappointed as we wanted that he should have been brought here and tried as the real loss has been of India. It would have been appropriate if he would have been tried here," Khurshid told reporters here.

The minister said there was the law of land in the US. "We know that, but we still hope and will try that such people should be brought here and tried," he said.

"We would have liked a severer sentence. We would have liked the accused to be tried in India. But at least a beginning has been made. We will continue our efforts to ensure that all such people are extradited and brought to India for trial," Khurshid said.

Under a plea deal, US prosecutors "had agreed not to seek the death penalty against him and to not extradite him to Pakistan, India or Denmark for the offences to which Headley pleaded guilty", it was stated in the Chicago court.

Khurshid said there was a little disappointment over the quantum of sentence, "but we know that the judge has said clearly that the sentence has been given as there was a provision in their law that he cannot be extradited".

Headley's sentence would be followed by five years of supervised release. There is no federal parole and defendants must serve at least 85 percent of their sentence.

Asked about Headley's accomplice Tahawwur Rana, whom India wants to stand trial here, Khurshid said the government was watching his case closely.

"The same thing continues. There is little difference between the two cases because in this case he (Headley) had given up his right of appeal. In the other case (Rana's), the right of appeal has not been given up. So, we continue to watch these cases very closely, and such legal intervention as we can make at any time we will continue to do so," Khurshid told reporters.

Home Secretary R.K. Singh said the plea deal was between Headley and the US government and that India would keep pressing for his extradition.

"Our request for extradition stands and we shall continue pressing for it. All those people involved in the conspiracy to kill 166 people in Mumbai, all of them deserve death," Singh told reporters here.

Information and Broadcasting Minister Manish Tewari added that India's "right" for Headly's extradition was "non-negotiable".

He said Headley had been accused of masterminding the most heinous terrorist outrage in recent Indian history. "He needs to be tried in accordance to Indian laws, it is something which is non-negotiable," Tewari told reporters.

Congress spokesperson Rashid Alvi said the party wanted Headley to be brought back to India.

"He should have been punished here, the land where he committed his crimes and we are disappointed that America refused to extradite him."

Party leader Digvijaya Singh said: "The Indian government should keep trying to extradite him."

The BJP also said the sentence handed over to Headley was a "partial judgement" and he should be brought to India to face trial.

"The 35-year imprisonment handed down to Headley is perhaps for the death of six Americans killed on Indian soil (in 26/11). Over 145 people were brutally massacred in Mumbai. What about them?" BJP spokesperson Rajiv Pratap Rudy said.

Describing the US judgement as partial, he said it was based on US laws for US citizens, who were killed in India.

"The BJP wants justice for all those who were killed in India. It is only possible when Headley is brought to India to be tried by our courts," Rudy said.

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