Exclusive: 'I had a hunch he was an agent'
Updated on 21 January 2010
David Headley's arrest was the first his Indian bodybuilding friends knew about his involvement in the Mumbai attacks. They speak to Jonathan Miller about how he implicated them.
Extracts from the interview.
Jonathan Miller: "A photograph of David Headley has just been published. Is it the David Headley you know?"
Rahul Bhatt and Vilas Varak: "That's him, yeah."
RB: "David used to sit here [points around], Vilas used to sit here and there used to be a chair over here. And that's where I used to sit. And we used to order kebabs and Diet Coke and I would show him my knife collection which he was quite fascinated by.
"He was an impressive looking man. He had presence. He was about six foot two inches in height. He was broad. As broad as me. Broad shouldered. A physically fit man.
"He was not remotely an Islamic fundamentalist of any sort. He was a talking, walking…a Yank, American in all regards, great sense of humour, extremely well-informed, sensitive and a good friend. A genuinely good guy. That's the David Headley I knew.
"He had the most interesting set of eyes I have ever seen in my life. It was like a cat's…You could get this sense of anguish.
JM: "How would you read that? When? Was he a moody man?"
RB: "No he was not a moody man, but you could tell he had seen it all. He had a past. A turbulent past. Not a happy life."
RB: "I liked hanging out with him because he was one person I could learn from. He could teach me things about my areas of interest be it guns, be intelligence, be it spy-craft, those areas.
JM: "It must leave you feeling very betrayed by what has happened."
RB: "Oh yes. Indeed."
JM: "Do you feel hurt by it?"
RB: "Yes. I feel hurt because it's a sort of a rape when you have a close friend who... I have stopped trusting people."
JM: "Did he show to you any religious sympathies?"
RB: "Absolutely not. Absolutely not. I can say that without a shadow of a doubt. Absolutely not."
JM: "Did he even come across as a Muslim?"
RB: "No, no, no. He came across as a Yank.
"I had a hunch then and I have a hunch now that he was an American agent of some sort. And I had nicknamed him "Agent Headley" and I thought, I suggested to him that he worked for the Central Intelligence Agency and he did not like it.
"I thought he just could be a high-ranking American agent. With high-level top clearance with non-official cover.
"David was aware that I was going to be acting as the leading man in a movie called Suicide Bomber. My father happens to be a movie maker and there was a film called Suicide Bomber which had been conceptualised for me as the leading man based on the 7/11 London bombings and David was aware and it was also in regard to that that we used to have a lot of conversations, talks preparing for that part, about terrorism and counter-terrorism."
Hints and Pakistan
RB: "[In] an email he sent us on 11 December 2008 he says: "Hey guys so sorry to see what has happened in Mumbai. We should go over there and kick their ass."
"He ends off by saying "Stay safe, Dave." So this is an email he wrote to me a month after the 26/11 massacre in Mumbai.
JM: "And it was going to be many, many more months before you were to learn that he'd helped plan that."
RB: "That's right."
JM: "What did you feel when you learned that?"
RB: "Well it was utter disbelief initially. I mean, for the first fortnight, month or so, I was still contemplating whether it was the same guy or not. Is it the David Headley I know or was it just part of my vivid imagination? It kind of left me a little off balance.
RB: "He referred to Pakistan as the Wild West and he said, "Rahul you know it would really help you for your part [in the film] to come and visit the Wild West and get some first hand experience and visit the gun bazaars of Peshawar and go up to the tribal areas of Waziristan".
"I expressed apprehension and said David, Pakistan is a very dangerous place to go to and us being Indian nationals, there's a good chance of us getting kidnapped. And it would be being executed like Daniel Pearl, on camera.
"He was very confident and said nothing of that sort would every happen and we would be very well protected and we would have a convoy of Pajeros escorting us."
JM: "So he was saying "It's safe with me".
RB: "He was saying it's safe with me…
"One incident when we were going to South Mumbai that he mentioned to us there was a bombing in Islamabad, at the Marriott in Islamabad, and I remember him very clearly telling me "you know guys you are going to see things like that happening now in this country.
"So I found that a little shocking."
JM: When did you realise that you were "Rahul"?"
RB: " I heard on the TV, it was a breaking story on one of the news channels. I head the David Headley and then I knew it was me.
JM: "And your name was used as a byword for this country: "say hi to Rahul" meant "we're going to India".
RB: "Apparently yes".
JM: That's quite a burden to carry in that your name has been associated with what has happened in Mumbai…"
RB: Extremely. That's what keeps me up at night - what did he have in mind for me?
"I guess he sold me out on that front. But I don’t know, man, what did he mean, what plans did he have for the future, what did he see in me?"
JM: "would you go and see him in jail?"
RB: "Oh definitely."