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Headley Left Suitcase In Mumbai, Also The Woman He Wooed

PTI 27 Jan 2010, 9:21:27 IST
PTI

A suitcase left behind by David Headley during his last visit to India — in March 2009 — at the Jogeshwari residence of one Bashir Sheikh has led Indian investigators to the person who probably came closest to the Lashkar-e-Toiba suspect: a 28-year-old Parsi woman who was employed as a “kitchen executive” at the Oberoi Trident Hotel, says a report in The Indian Express.

Intelligence sources have confirmed to the newspaper that this woman's questioning has provided key leads in the ongoing investigation.

Headley is in custody in Chicago and has been indicted by the FBI — along with aide Tahawwur Rana — for his role in plotting the Mumbai attacks.

Sources said the Parsi woman, a hotel management graduate — her name is being withheld — has told investigators that she frequently dined with Headley at other 26/11 targets as well, the Taj Hotel and the Leopold Café.

The woman lived with her parents — Headley visited her house twice — and she helped her parents run a bakery in south Mumbai. It was “near” this bakery that the unexploded 8 kg of RDX was found on the night of 26/11.

Sources said the woman has told investigators that Headley “assiduously pursued” her with flowers, email and SMS when he was abroad and, in March 2009, gifted her a platinum bracelet.  Significantly, she said, Headley frequently spoke to her about his “fascination” with close-combat weapons and admitted he had interactions with “weapon mafia dons” during his frequent visits to Pakistan.

Bashir Sheikh has since been identified as the owner of a milk dairy — who was known to Headley's aide Tahawwur Rana and had been deported from the US in 2005 — and as the person who received Headley at Mumbai airport during his first visit in September 2006. Bashir booked Headley in Outram Hotel in Mumbai following which Headley shifted to his paying guest accommodation in Breach Candy.

Headley parked two of his suitcases and a fax machine in Bashir's house in Jogeshwari. On his last visit, he went to Bashir's house and picked up only one of the suitcases. The one he left behind, Intelligence sources said, contained used clothes, shoes, toiletries, tinned food, visiting cards, a copy of Headley's passport and registration papers of the Osho Ashram — which Headley visited in July 2008 — and a Nokia handset with a SIM.

The phone was earlier used by the 50-year-old Parsi secretary Headley hired in December 2006 when he set up his Immigration Law Centre.

The SIM's phone book showed up numbers for the 28-year-old Trident employee, Rana, Rahul Bhatt as well as Vilas Varak, the Moksha gym trainer, and a list of international numbers, which are being analysed. Investigators have also confirmed a “Headley connection” with a male fashion designer (name being withheld) who runs a fashion store on Bhulabhai Desai Road and came in contact with Headley at the gym in early 2007.

This fashion designer has told investigators that Headley evinced a keen interest in visiting Ganapati temples and pandals and that he kept photographing the places they visited.

Interesting nuggets have also been pieced together after Rahul Bhatt and Vilas Varak have been questioned and SMSs exchanged between them examined. Rahul, for instance, has said that Headley was familiar with names and titles of senior Defence personnel in Mumbai and New Delhi and boasted that he could count 242 shakhas of the Shiv Sena. Rahul also said that Headley was familiar with the functioning of special commando units in India, Pakistan and Israel and that he had seen him reading former sleuth B Raman's book “The Kaoboys of RAW.”

Varak has said he was hired by Headley as a personal trainer for Rs 5,000 a month and that during his fifth visit to India in September-October 2007, Headley became a frequent visitor to the Golf Club in Mahalaxmi. Headley even purchased a golf set, which is still lying unclaimed with Varak.