NEW DELHI: In the first formal reaction to the American-Pakistani terrorist David Coleman Headley's sentencing, home secretary R K Singh on Friday said, "Our view is that all those involved in 26/11 case should receive death penalty. That has been our consistent stand".
Though Singh said India still wanted Headley to get death sentence, he did not explain how it was still possible since a US court had already awarded him jail term of 35 years -- wit the judge explaining that the death penalty was not possible under his plea bargaining clauses and the leniency shown by the American prosecutors.
On possibility of Headley's extradition, Singh said, "The Indian request for his extradition remains (intact) and New Delhi will press for it".
Other officials, however, said that Headley's extradition was impossible under his plea bargaining clauses.
"The American terrorist can be extradited only if he violates the provisions of the plea bargaining - which he certainly won't. He will continue to cooperate with the US agency to avoid his extradition to either India or any other country", said an official.
Though officials in Indian agencies are disappointed at leniency shown by US prosecutors to Headley which spared him from the death penalty, they are not surprised with the 35 years jail term for him by the American court. The 26/11 convict had ensured he would escape capital punishment long ago when he had entered into plea bargaining with the FBI in 2010.
Headley had, in fact, pleaded guilty on all 12 counts including his role in Mumbai terror attack only after getting such assurance during plea bargaining.
He, in lieu of this concession, had promised cooperation with the US agency in all possible manners -- be it providing information or deposing through video-conferencing for any future case in any other country.
Officials here said that it was quite clear then that Headley would not be handed death sentence nor would he be extradited to India as he had got this specific assurance in lieu of his cooperation immediately after his indictment by the FBI.
Considering this, the officials said, the 35 year jail term followed by supervised release for life seemed sufficient, though life term would have been better. This is what they had expected from the US court, taking in view the Headley's plea bargaining deal, they added.
Meanwhile external affairs minister Salman Khurshid said the government was "slightly disappointed" over the quantum of sentence, saying the 52-year-old convict should have got the "severest sentence", PTI reported.
Asserting that India's demand was Headley should be tried in India, Khurshid said he would have possibly got a "serious and severe" sentence in this country. Khurshid, however, said the sentence handed over to Headley was a "beginning".
"The 35 year sentencing and what the judge said is a beginning. We understand there are legal procedures in the US but nevertheless the position we have, the request(extradition) that we have made remains intact," Khurshid told reporters.
Congress spokesman Rashid Alvi expressed disappointment at the verdict and demanded that he should be tried in India. BJP spokesperson Rajiv Pratap Rudy demanded that Headley should be extradited to India and be tried under Indian laws and given capital punishment.
"I think going by what the judge has said this should go "I think going by what the judge has said this should go a long way in hopefully conveying a very clear message that the kind of things that have been going on in the past will not be tolerated," Khurshid said. US District Judge Harry Leinenweber said yesterday, "The sentence I impose, I'm hopeful it will keep Mr Headley under lock and key for the rest of his natural life."
The judge said it would have been much easier to impose the death penalty. "That's what you deserve".
"Mr. Headley is a terrorist," the judge said while imposing the sentence on 12 counts in a packed court. Leinenweber also said, "He commits crime, cooperates and then gets rewarded for the cooperation.
"No matter what I do, it is not going to deter terrorists. Unfortunately, terrorists do not care for it. I do not have any faith in Mr Headley when he says that he is a changed person now.
"I do believe that it is my duty to protect the public from Mr Headley and ensure that he does not get into any further terrorist activities. Recommending 35 years is not a right sentence".