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India says 35 years jail not enough for Mumbai attacks plotter

January 25, 2013

John Theis, left, and Robert Seeder, defense attorneys for David Headley, speak with reporters at the federal building in Chicago, Thursday, January 24, 2013, after Headley was sentenced to 35 years in prison. —AP Photo

NEW DELHI: India's foreign minister said on Friday that the US planner of the deadly 2008 Mumbai attacks should have got a harsher sentence than 35 years in prison and added that New Delhi still wanted his extradition.

David Headley, 52, who admitted to scouting targets for the Mumbai attacks in which 166 people died, cooperated with US authorities to avoid the death penalty during his sentencing in Chicago on Thursday.

“If we would have tried him, we would have sought much more (punishment). But the judge is bound by the structured system of justice delivery in the US,” Foreign Minister Salman Khurshid told India's CNN-IBN TV network.

“It's a beginning,” Khurshid told other reporters in New Delhi.

“This should go a long way in hopefully conveying a very clear message” that such acts are not tolerated, he added.

Last November, India executed 25-year-old Pakistani-born Ajmal Kasab, the sole surviving gunman from the Mumbai rampage that lasted three days.

On the thorny issue of Headley's extradition, Khurshid said India has been “consistently” pushing its demand with Washington.

US prosecutors agreed not to extradite Headley in exchange for his cooperation after his 2009 arrest in Chicago as he was about to board a flight to Pakistan.

US authorities told the court that Headley cooperated with authorities and provided valuable details about the militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba, which India blames for orchestrating the attacks.

The US embassy in New Delhi welcomed the lengthy imprisonment without parole handed out to Headley.

“This sentence reflects both severe punishment for Headley's role in the heinous 26/11 crimes and a decision by the US Department of Justice not to seek the death penalty,” the embassy said in a statement.

“This decision was taken because of Headley's willingness to cooperate with law enforcement authorities, American, Indian and others, to help bring the perpetrators to justice and prevent other terrorist attacks,” it added.

In delivering the sentence, US judge Harry Leinenweber made it clear he would have rather imposed the death penalty, but said the 35-year term he gave Headley would keep him “under lock and key for the rest of his natural life”.