Decoding the man who is David Headley: An excerpt from 'The Mind of a Terrorist'

Mumbai was humid, flashy, loud, and full of both poor beggars and shrewd businesspeople. It was a strange city, Headley thought. This was his first trip to the city, and he landed at the airport as planned, without any hitches, one Thursday in September 2006.

He rented a room on the fifth floor of a property on Bhulabhai Road, a good half hour from the city centre by car. The landlord was an older woman, Mrs Kriplani, and it was nice. He would have all the peace he was looking for. At home in Pakistan, Headley dressed himself in loose-fitting religious and traditional clothes, abstained from alcohol, and spoke Punjabi or Urdu. In Mumbai, he wore a tailored Armani suit and bought champagne. He was an American now with an American passport and a home address somewhere in America. He spoke clear, fluent English, more with a British accent than a Pakistani one.

When he sat at a hotel bar at two in the morning, he appeared, with his tall, fair-skinned body, to be neither a Pakistani Muslim nor a teetotaller.

The Mind of a Terrorist

The Mind of a Terrorist

Headley bought a new mobile phone with a new SIM card and began creating his cover story: he was in Mumbai as an immigration consultant, he said. With a false signature under the name of Raymond Joseph Sanders and the $25,000 from Iqbal, he started a business called First World, which was ostensibly to help Indians who had the desire and the skills to work in the United States obtain visas. He opened an office in suites 29 and 31 on the first floor of the AC Market office complex in Mumbai’s business district, employed a local Indian as a secretary, and printed advertisements in local papers. The business gave him a legal reason to stay in Mumbai for long periods of time even if he never submitted a single visa application. At the Five Fitness health club on a random evening, Headley met Vilas Varak, whom he hired to be his personal trainer. Vilas was a so-called Shiv Sainik — a member of the Shiv Sena political party, a right-wing Hindu nationalist movement and, thereby, one of Lashkar’s main enemies. Headley invited Vilas to breakfasts and dinners. He even held a party for Vilas’ 30th birthday, and the two became good friends. And through Vilas, Headley had access to Shiv Sena’s huge headquarters in Mumbai, Shivsena Bhavan. The building was added to Headley’s list of possible targets. It was also through Vilas that Headley met Rahul Bhatt, a young man with a very famous father, the Bollywood producer Mahesh Bhatt, but also with incredibly low self-esteem. Rahul had been chubby as a teenager, but now he’d pumped his body up to the extreme, and at that time his well-toned muscle mass was featured in a commercial for Five Fitness itself.

Headley gave Rahul both his mobile numbers and the two exchanged text messages and calls daily, or went to the movies to see films like Vantage Point, about the carefully planned murder of an American president. Other times, they simply sat at the Indigo Café in central Mumbai, eating Philly cheesesteaks with apple pie for dessert. Or at one of the local restaurants, where they ate kebabs and drank cans of Diet Coke. Rahul got his first knife at the age of 10. Ever since, he had been fascinated by weapons, self-defence, spy stories, terrorism and explosions. He was hoping to get to play the role of a suicide bomber in one of his father’s films. Rahul showed Headley his knife collection, and they discussed the pros and cons of the American M-16 rifle and the Russian AK-47. Or the Glock pistol and the Steyr AUG utomatic rifle, both from Austria, compared to weapons from the German manufacturer Heckler & Koch.

To make himself more interesting — and not least to hide the fact that he received his military training from training camps in Pakistan — Headley said that he had been an elite soldier in the American army. He was a former ranger and that was why he used the email address when writing to Rahul. He also told Rahul he had trained with Pakistan’s elite special services group, known as the Black Storks, after the colour of their uniforms. But that was a long time ago, he explained. At one point, he confided to Rahul that he was considering starting a business to provide important figures in India with bodyguards. He might have use for Rahul then. Rahul, of course, was happy at the prospect of putting his muscles to good use.

Headley also suggested a number of books Rahul might find interesting. For example, Killing Zone: A Professional’s Guide to Preparing and Preventing Ambushes, a 264-page-long book that included analyses of more than 40 ambushes and attacks on tourists and businesspeople. Headley’s many tales of wild travels, his military knowledge, and his long monologues about justice in the world led Rahul to call him jokingly, Agent Headley. On several occasions, Rahul considered the possibility of his new friend being a secret agent from some intelligence service or other. But he shot those thoughts down. Headley didn’t like the agent nickname. At times, he considered recruiting Rahul to fight for Lashkar. He could take Rahul to northern Pakistan for starters, he thought. In the end though, he decided to abandon the idea.

Under the pretence of being a tourist, Headley travelled instead to the capital, New Delhi, and checked out the military academy, National Defence College. He put the coordinates into his sleek, yellow Garmin GPS.

Later, he attended a fashion show with a local clothing designer in Mumbai’s 500-foot-tall World Trade Centre, and this building complex was added to the list too. He photographed the Gateway of India, the famous monument from the colonial period; Maharashtra state’s large police headquarters in Mumbai; and a golf course in the Wellington district. He bought backpacks for the 10 men. He stayed three times at the Taj — and just for fun, stole one of the hotel’s towels, which he later gave to Sajid Mir. Headley chose to keep a coffee cup from the Taj for himself, as a souvenir. Altogether, Headley found more than 20 targets for terrorism in India, which he reported to Lashkar-e-Taiba. And he delivered roughly 50 hours’ worth of video from Mumbai.

Excerpted from The Mind Of a Terrorist: The Strange Case of David Headley by Kaare Sørensen with permission from Penguin Books.

Firstpost is now on WhatsApp. For the latest analysis, commentary and news updates, sign up for our WhatsApp services. Just go to and hit the Subscribe button.

Updated Date: Jul 16, 2016 10:26 AM

Also See