American Mumbai plotter sentenced to 35 years

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CHICAGO -- Minutes before an American was sentenced to 35 years in prison for helping plan a deadly attack on Mumbai, India, one of his victims tearfully pleaded for a harsh punishment, despite the plotter's widespread cooperation with U.S. investigators following his arrest.

David Coleman Headley, 52, shifted uncomfortably in a gray tracksuit and kept his eyes fixed on the Chicago courtroom floor Thursday as he listened to an American children's author describe the violent chaos during her 2008 vacation to India.

Bullets flew past her check and panicked diners dove under tables as gunmen burst into a hotel restaurant and then walked around executing people one by one, recalled Linda Ragsdale, at times almost shouting as she stood just a few feet from Mr. Headley during the sentencing hearing. More than 160 people died in the attack, including children.

"I know the sweet sickening smell of gunfire and blood," said Ms. Ragsdale, 53, of Nashville, Tenn., who was shot in the back -- the bullet passing along her spine and out her thigh. "I know what a bullet can do to every part of the human body. ... These are things I never needed to know, never needed to experience."

Others victimized by the attack that has been called India's 9/11 said they were disturbed and upset that Mr. Headley did not get the maximum life term he faced. With good-behavior credit, he could leave prison before he turns 80.

"He lost his right to live life as a free man. He doesn't deserve to be let out. He gave up that right when he played a role in the attack," said Kia Scherr, whose husband, Alan, and daughter, Naomi, 13, were at the same table as Ms. Ragsdale and died.

Prosecutors had pressed for leniency, saying they wanted Mr. Headley to get no more than 35 years as credit for his almost-immediate cooperation after his 2009 arrest and providing intelligence on terror networks, including the Pakistani-based group that mounted the attack. Rewarding Mr. Headley with at least a few years of freedom, they said, would encourage future terror suspects to spill their secrets.

A somber Judge Harry Leinenweber sounded reluctant to impose the lesser sentence, saying the Mumbai assault was so unfathomable and terrifying that "perhaps the lucky ones were the ones who didn't survive." He added, "I don't have any faith in Mr. Headley when he says he's a changed person and believes in the American way of life."

The attack heightened the strain in a historically antagonistic relationship between India and Pakistan, which have fought three major wars. Indian officials accuse Pakistan's intelligence agency of helping to plan the assault -- an allegation that Pakistan denies.

Mr. Headley's meticulous scouting missions helped make the assault by 10 gunmen of a Pakistani-based militant group on multiple Mumbai targets so deadly. TV cameras captured much of the three-day rampage.

world


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