CHICAGO (AP) - Prosecutors are seeking a relatively lenient sentence on Thursday for an American who helped plan the 2008 terrorist rampage in Mumbai, citing his cooperation with investigators.
David Coleman Headley, 52, faces a maximum life term for his role in a three-day rampage in which 10 gunmen from a Pakistani-based militant group fanned out across Mumbai, attacking a crowded train station, the landmark Taj Mahal Hotel and other targets. Around 160 people were killed, including children.
Prosecutors, though, are asking for a relatively lenient term of 30 to 35 years, which leaves open the possibility Headley one day could go free.
Headley, a small-time US drug dealer-turned-terrorist plotter, seemed to leap at the chance to spill secrets following his 2009 arrest and continued providing details even after the US government agreed not to seek the death penalty in exchange for his cooperation.
Prosecutors said Headley, who was born in the United States to a Pakistani father and American mother, was motivated in part by his hatred of India going back to his childhood. He changed his birth name from Daood Gilani in 2006 so he could travel to and from India more easily to do reconnaissance without raising suspicions.
He never pulled a trigger in the attack that has been called India's 9/11, but his contribution to the Pakistani-based militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba made the assault more deadly. He conducted meticulous scouting missions - videotaping and mapping targets - so the attackers who had never been to Mumbai adeptly found their way around.
"What he did was unfathomable," said Mr James Kreindler, an attorney for relatives of US victims. "Imagine what is going through a person's mind who is videotaping these places knowing what will happen there later."
One woman whose husband and daughter were killed said a lighter sentence would be "an appalling dishonour" to those killed.
"I feel that for the magnitude of the killings that took place, David Headley has lost his right to live as a free man," said Ms Kia Scherr, who is currently in Mumbai. "This would be a moral outrage that is inexcusable."
Prosecutors also have praised Headley for testifying against Tahawwur Rana, a Chicago businessman convicted of providing aid to Lashkar and backing a failed plot to attack a Danish newspaper for publishing depictions of the Prophet Muhammad. Rana, sentenced last week to 14 years in prison, claimed his friend Headley duped him.
Testifying at Rana's trial in 2011, Headley spoke in a monotone voice, seemingly detached, as he described one proposal for the never-carried-out Danish plot to behead newspaper staff and throw their heads onto a street.
In video excerpts of his interviews with the Federal Bureau of Investigation after his arrest, Headley appears flippant, cool and calculating. As he revealed Rana's name, he told an investigator in an upbeat voice: "That probably is going to be good a plus for me. Also for you."
In big cases where suspects cooperate, prosecutors often ask for leniency. It is both a reward and a message to future suspects that they, too, could get a break if they spill their secrets. Still, for a reviled figure like Headley, to get a sentence less than what is routinely given to convicted drug traffickers or child pornographers could prompt criticism.
Prosecutors have recounted only in broad terms how Headley has shed light on the leadership, structure and possible targets of Lashkar-e-Taiba, which was believed to have ties to the Pakistani intelligence agency, known as ISI. Headley has said his ISI contact was a "Major Iqbal", who was named in the indictment that charged Headley.
Mr Seth Jones, a Rand Corp political scientist, agreed that Headley must have provided useful insight for US intelligence, especially about how Pakistani intelligence agents allegedly reach out to people like Headley.
"From my perspective, this was pretty detailed information about one ISI contact (Headley) with one handler, Iqbal," Mr Jones said. He added, however, that Pakistani intelligence would have been careful not to reveal too much to Headley, saying: "They didn't trust him either."
For his cooperation and guilty plea to 12 counts, Headley secured both a promise that he would not face the death penalty and would not be extradited to India. Late last year, India secretly hanged the lone gunman who survived the Mumbai attack, Mohammed Ajmal Kasab.
The 12 counts Headley pleaded guilty to included conspiracy to commit murder in India and aiding and abetting in the murder of six Americans, who included Mr Alan Scherr and his 13-year-old daughter, Naomi.
Ms Scherr and her family were in India for a two-week spiritual retreat and were staying at the Oberoi Trident Hotel, one of the sites that came under assault.
After the attack, Ms Scherr helped start an organisation called the One Life Alliance, which seeks to work against terrorism by promoting understanding and respect for the sacredness of life.
"This is how I am surviving this event, which erased life as I knew it," she wrote in an e-mail from Mumbai, where she continues to travel to for charity work.
Survivor Andreina Varagona described in a pre-sentencing filing dining with the Scherrs at the hotel restaurant when gunmen burst in. Bullets tore apart the room as they dove under a table, the girl screaming.
"I suddenly felt the warm spray of blood on my face and in my hair. ... Naomi's screams had stopped too, and I saw her lying lifeless beside (her father)," she recounted. "They'd both been shot dead."