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David Headley Gets 35 Years For Role In Mumbai Terror Attack

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David Headley (Credit: New Delhi Television)

David Headley (Credit: New Delhi Television)

Updated 01/24/13 – 4:15 p.m.

CHICAGO (CBS) – Chicago native David Headley was sentenced to 35 years in prison on Thursday for his role in the 2008 terrorist attack in Mumbai, India, and for planning another attack in Copenhagen, Denmark.

CBS 2’s Suzanne Le Mignot reports Headley, 52, showed no emotion as U.S. District Judge Harry Leinenweber handed down the sentence. Headley had admitted making scouting missions to Mumbai to help plan out an assault by 10 gunmen, which left more than 160 people dead.

Cory Nelson, the special agent in charge of the FBI’s Chicago office, said, “Today closes another chapter in our ongoing effort to fight terrorism, and thwart attacks around the globe.”

Prosecutors had asked Leinenweber to sentence Headley to between 30 and 35 years, noting he cooperated with authorities after his arrest, and provided substantial information in their investigation.

Headley was the star witness at the 2011 trial against Chicago businessman Tahawwur Rana, who was convicted providing support to the Pakistani militant group, and backing a failed plot to attack a newspaper in Denmark for publishing cartoons depicting the Muslim prophet Muhammad.

Acting U.S. Atty. Gary Shapiro said, “The only way you get witnesses in this world is by threatening to prosecute them, and then offering them some real incentive to provide you with that information.”

Federal prosecutors agreed not to seek the death penalty against Headley in exchange for his cooperation, which they said helped thwart the planned attack on the Danish newspaper. They also agreed not to have him extradited to India.

WBBM Newsradio’s John Cody reports Nashville children’s book author Linda Ragsdale helped provide a glimpse of the terror of the attack in Mumbai, as she told the hushed courtroom, “I know the sound of life leaving a 13-year-old child. These are things I never needed to know, never needed to experience.”

It was a sound she heard huddled under a table as gunmen opened fire inside a restaurant at the Oberoi Trident hotel, then executed people one by one.

But Ragsdale said she’s a victor, not a victim, because she survived – albeit, with a three-foot-long scar from a bullet that entered her back, tore along her spinal cord, then exited her stomach, leaving her in a bright red pool of her own blood.

Prosecutors said Headley’s reconnaissance for the Pakistani-based militant group, Lashkar-e-Taiba — including a suggestion about where the terrorists could make an amphibious landing in Mumbai — made the attack even more deadly.

Leinenweber clearly didn’t buy Headley’s story of remorse about his participation in the deadly attack. He told the courtroom, “I don’t have any faith in Mr. Headley when he says he’s a changed person and believes in the American way of life.”

He told Headley “you’re a terrorist, and sentences don’t deter terrorists.”

But he said a 35-year sentence would protect the public from Headley, who’ll be about 80 when he is eligible to leave prison.

In video recordings of a 2009 FBI interview, Headley expressed concern that the information he was providing had not yet led to arrests.

“I know you have plenty of evidence against me, but really I’m just providing you more and more evidence against me, and we’re not making any arrests,” he said. “That’s probably gonna be a plus for me, and also for you.”

The Headley case has been followed very closely by Indian media.

Sarah Jacob, the U.S. bureau chief for New Delhi Television, said “many in India still feel that he should get a life sentence for the dastard act that he has committed.”

The 12 counts Headley pleaded guilty to included conspiracy to commit murder in India, and aiding and abetting in the murder of six Americans.

(TM and © Copyright 2013 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS Radio and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2013 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)