Chicago, Jan 25 (IANS) Pakistani-American David Headley, a key plotter in the deadly 2008 Mumbai terror attack by Pakistani terror group Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), dodged the life sentence as expected, with a court here Thursday sentencing him to 35 years in prison.
Headley, 52, the Washington-born son of a Pakistani diplomat and an American mother, faced life imprisonment without parole, but US District Judge Harry Leinenweber gave him a lesser sentence in line with the prosecution's recommendations.
Citing the "significant cooperation" to US government's efforts to combat terrorism provided by Headley, US federal prosecutors had sought only 30 to 35 years in prison for him.
Before imposing the 35-year prison term, the judge said he wanted to make sure Headley, who had changed his given name of Dawood Gilani to scout targets in Mumbai without arousing suspicion, is "never in a position again to commit a terrorist attack", the Chicago Tribune reported.
Leinenweber was sceptical of a letter that Headley recently wrote to him. "I don't have any faith in Mr. Headley when he says he's a changed person," the judge said.
Headley should be "under lock and key for the rest of his life", Leinenweber said.
Earlier, a victim of the terror attack told the judge how surprised she was by the young ages of the terrorists who stormed into a hotel's first-floor cafe while she was eating there, the Tribune reported.
Linda Ragsdale, a Nashville woman who was shot in the back during the 2008 rampage - which left 166 people including several foreign nationals dead, recalled wondering how a man as young as her son could kill innocent people.
Holding back tears, Ragsdale described a barrage of bullets so intense that "waves of heat clouded" her vision.
"I know what a bullet could do to every part of the human body," Ragsdale said.
"I know the sound of life leaving a 13-year-old child. These are things I never needed to know, never needed to experience," she was quoted as saying.
Ragsdale also read from a statement written by another survivor of the shooting at the Oberoi Hotel who said it would be an "appalling dishonour" if Headley was sentenced to the 30 to 35 years in prison recommended by federal prosecutors, the Tribune reported.
But former US attorney Patrick Fitzgerald, making a surprise appearance at the sentencing hearing, told Leinenweber he should consider the "unusual nature" of Headley's cooperation even though Headley was involved in a "very, very heinous crime."
On the night of his arrest at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport, Headley "freely admitted" his role in the Mumbai massacre within half an hour, Fitzgerald said.
Bomb-sniffing dogs checked the coats and bags of all the spectators entering Leinenweber's courtroom today, according to the Tribune. At one point, more than 100 people had lined up to attend the sentencing.