Chicago, Jan 24 (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 a US court here Thursday sentenced him to just 35 years in prison.
Although Headley, 52, the Washington-born son of a Pakistani diplomat and an American mother, faced life imprisonment without parole, US District Judge Harry Leinenweber gave him a lesser sentence in line with the prosecution's recommendations.
Headley, who changed his given name of Dawood Gilani to scout targets in Mumbai without arousing suspicion, "played an essential role in the planning of a horrific terrorist attack" in Mumbai,' according to Gary Shapiro, the acting US attorney in Chicago.
But citing Headley's "significant cooperation" to US government's efforts to combat terrorism, US federal prosecutors had suggested a prison term of 30-35 years.
Headley had pleaded guilty to 12 charges relating to his role in the Mumbai attack, which left 166 people including several foreign nationals dead, as also an abortive LeT plot to attack Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten for publishing cartoons of Prophet Muhammad.
Testifying Thursday at Headley's sentencing, a victim of the Mumbai massacre told the LeT operative how surprised she was by the age of the terrorists who stormed into a Mumbai hotel's first-floor cafe while she was eating there.
Linda Ragsdale, a Nashville woman who was shot in the back during the 2008 rampage in India, recalled wondering how a man as young as her son could kill innocent people, according to the Chicago Tribune.
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 said.
But former US attorney Patrick Fitzgerald, in a surprise appearance at the sentencing hearing, told Leinenweber that Headley was involved in a "very, very heinous crime" but the judge should consider the "unusual nature" of Headley's cooperation.
On the night of his arrest at O'Hare International Airport, Headley "freely admitted" his role in the Mumbai massacre within half an hour of being given his Miranda rights, Fitzgerald said.