Pennsylvania: In an exclusive interview to NDTV, William Headley, maternal uncle of 26/11 accused David Headley, shares fascinating details on how his nephew turned to terrorism.
Here's the transcript of the full interview:
NDTV: The nephew you knew is very different from the man described in the papers.
William Headley: He's almost like two different people. I am not qualified to speak on this in terms of clinical psychology but if you see him, he is a harlequin - that is with different coloured eyes. Usually one is blemished, but he has a clear blue and a clear brown eye. So if you look at him, he is split down the middle. If you took a photograph and folded it, you would be like 'wow'. Like they say 'East is East and West is West and never the twain shall meet' but they met in Dawood. David Headley would be David Armani and Dawood Gilani.
NDTV: You mean he could pull off with equal ease an Armani suit and a Sherwani?
William Headley: David Headley had short-slicked back hair, very clean-shaven, wearing an Armani suit, looking really sharp. He would have a bottle of Dom Perignon under his arm. The other side would be Dawood Gilani. He would be in native dress, a fundamentalist beard and would have the Quran under his arm. And he has been used that way. He changed his name to Headley so he could go back and forth. He could pose as either one and be completely believable because it is partly true.
NDTV: And is that how you see your nephew - man with a dual personality?
William Headley: You could see this duality. Yes, to me it was pretty apparent. He was very conflicted. He came over here when he was four and got a real big exposure to the country. It could not have been more different between the two worlds. In one world where he wants to be a Pakistani, he was considered to be an American. With Americans, he was being seen as a Muslim. So he had to get used to a duality of life. My sister was not only different but she was a standout even in our culture. She was quite a libertine. She did whatever she wanted to do. Dawood came over at 16 to reunite with his mother and here she had just met this man, and when he came over, she more or less ignored him and was paying attention to the man who would become her future husband. It was terrible for him. He ended up living on top of the bar she owned. There are not many devout Muslims who have to live in a bar. I think it was confusing for him. The cultures are so different. But I would say that he has never done anything against America. He has worked for us in the past.
NDTV: And when you say he worked for us do you mean undercover work?
William Headley: Yes.
NDTV: How are you sure about this?
William Headley: I am not proud of this. He was arrested for drugs and he was given a very light sentence and he ended up working for us.
NDTV: The family knew it? He admitted it?
William Headley: Yes, I mean he did not just go around talking about it but yes, it would be mentioned. I don't know about anybody else but I knew about this.
NDTV: And have you been in touch with him since he was arrested?
William Headley: Yes, through letters. He is in maximum security so is only allowed letters. The authorities read both my letters to him and his letters to me.
NDTV: What does he say? Does he express any remorse?
William Headley: They are mostly asking about the family. They are the letters of someone who loved his family. Ironically, now we seem to be bonding. These are the most appalling charges that you could ever have. What could be worse than mass murder? Yet, somehow I feel protective towards him now as my nephew.
NDTV: Does he mention this case, the charges and does he mention India?
William Headley: He only said expect many surprises.
NDTV: So when he came to the US at 16, he was religious?
William Headley: Not fanatically. It was clear (he was religious) and he tried to follow the life as best as he could, but there was all this conflict since he could not drink alcohol etc. He became devout - and he is truly a devout Muslim - when he got arrested for drugs. He made a commitment to Allah that if he got cleared of this, he would follow the life, and that he did. It was difficult. He had left his father, his school in Pakistan and came here. His mother was preoccupied. He was spending a lot of time working at the bar. We did not know this, but there were a lot of drugs happening at the bar. It was a tough time. He should not have been left alone. Look at all the trouble he got into.
NDTV: When did his religious leanings turn to fanaticism?
William Headley: When he got involved with this undercover work. He was thrown into that. I don't know details. It's complicated. I would say that it was in those years where it all began. There was a marked difference. He became very serious and a fundamentalist. The change was very noticeable.
NDTV: Was Serrill worried about him?
William Headley: Yes, she was, as any mother would be. It seemed to fill all the criteria of jihad. That much he told me in terms of the persecution of Islamic people and all that.
NDTV: When did he turn from working for the US to collaborating with the LeT?
William Headley: He was an ideal candidate to be recruited by a terrorist organisation.
William Headley: He was tall, very good-looking, spoke very well, very charismatic, a little confused. He has some vulnerability. He is a very, very good communicator. He could inspire people. He could go to India and be an Indian, he could go to Pakistan and be a Pakistani. He could come here and be an American. He was a chameleon that way. Ideal. He could slide smoothly between worlds. Especially when he changed his name to Headley. He is the kind of person you would want to recruit. He was intelligent, informed.
NDTV: And yet was he trying to fit in and gain acceptance? From all that you know of Dawood, what do you think motivated him?
William Headley: Yes, I think acceptance was important to him. He really likes people. I think he needed something very strong to be part of and they keyed in on that too.
NDTV: Could it have been money that motivated him?
William Headley: He is interested in money. He likes money, but I will say this too that when he made his commitment to Allah, when he was arrested for drugs, he destroyed a lot of money, a lot of drugs. He really respects the rupee (laughs) but he just destroyed it. Either drugs or the money or products that he made through drugs, he destroyed, because it was not consistent now with his commitment to Allah.
NDTV: So, Dawood Gilani pursued money but David Headley did not?
William Headley: David Headley was very good with making money - if you want to separate the two. They keep saying he managed video stores. That's not true. He owned video stores. The concepts were his. They were good moneymakers. He was a good businessman. Very, very clever. He had home delivery, he had Pakistani bikers deliver the movies and if you needed pizza they would pick it up for you on the way. Famous actors like Danny DeVito would come into the store. But there is no way that he would kill for money. I cannot see that.
NDTV: Let's start at the beginning. How does a woman like Serrill Headley meet, fall in love with and marry a Pakistani?
William Headley: She left home at fifteen. She was very independent. There was none of the "I am leaving for a few days, can I get some money." She left, and left the area. She had a job in Washington. David's father was a diplomat. Salim was very distinguished. She met him at some function and you know what happens. She thought he was exotic and charming. He thought she was young and beautiful. They came to our home and I had never even heard of Pakistan. They were very happy and he took her over to Pakistan. Here, he acted very much as an American. When he got back, it was only natural that he falls back into the way he was raised but it was very difficult for her. She was one of the original feminists. Salim had quite a position, everyone was doting on him - grandmothers, mothers, everyone. They were there 11 years. She learnt the language, cooking, she wore a sari. When I saw her, she knew who the Beatles were but had not heard any of their music.
NDTV: How she did she feel about giving up all of this and moving to Pakistan?
William Headley: They had their differences. It was a shame because it wasn't because of any lack of love. She could not adjust to the way it was for women in Pakistan then. She would be progressive even today. It just did not work. So they divorced which was a really big deal, especially in the 60s. It was really terrible for Dawood and his sister. He got everything including custody of the children. She could visit once a month - with him sitting right there. She was not like a Pakistani woman at all. She stayed on, wanting to be near the children and started a film company, but she did not dress properly, she was exposing her arms and legs, dated men, drank alcohol. All these things probably made it more difficult. Salim's side of the family was very devout, so it was very difficult for everybody to handle it and again, Dawood had to bridge two worlds.
NDTV: There has been a lot in the news about his various marriages, what can you tell us about that?
William Headley: Yes, he was married several times and I don't see what bearing that has on Mumbai?
NDTV: Yes, but it does give us inkling into the double life he led.
William Headley: Well, to the mother of his children, it was a completely traditional Pakistani wedding. It was arranged, it was quite an affair. He is devoted to her, and adores his children. His wife over here is all David. She is not only a westernized woman, but particularly out going and now that I think of it, he was rather like his mother. It was very well separated for him because he had reasons to be here and reasons to be there and I think he just thought it would work.
NDTV: How is the rest of the family reacting?
William Headley: I don't expect that anybody can emphasise without really going through it.
NDTV: How has his sister reacted?
William Headley: She thinks he has just lost his mind. He has been in trouble before and that was bad enough. It was enough to deal with. How could he do these things, she just can't believe it and thinks that he is crazy. I can't imagine him doing this. I know all mothers and fathers say these things, but I really mean it. He is non violent. He is very kind, loves children and animals. He loved people; he is not some withdrawn reclusive, crazy person. There is no history of any violence.
NDTV: With all due respect William, the picture you are painting is very different from the evidence the FBI has against him, intercepted from phone calls and emails of his.
William Headley: If he absolutely understood and did these things, which set things up better for the terrorists and enabled them to more efficiently carry it (Mumbai) out, then he is guilty in my book. He has pleaded guilty but that could be interpreted in many ways and I need to hear straight from him first about that. But if that is the case, and if he is absolutely guilty, then whatever punishment is doled out to him, he has to accept that.
NDTV: Thank you for your time and sharing your memories. It couldn't have been easy and we appreciate it.
William Headley: Thanks.