India's top crime-fighter in Chicago for terror case

Loknath Behera, photo from thehindu.com
June 4, 2010 12:25:06 PM PDT
His name means nothing to Chicagoans and he could walk down Michigan Ave. without getting a second glance, but Loknath Behera is a legendary lawman in his home nation of India.

Behera, a meticulous detective with a knack for obtaining information from criminal suspects, leads a four-person team of investigators that arrived in Chicago this week to question to most wanted terrorist in India: David Coleman Headley.

It is a well-honed proficiency in the art of interrogation that has put Behera in the first chair across from Chicago terrorist David Headley. Earlier this year Mr. Headley pleaded guilty to plotting India's deadly Mumbai massacre in which more than 165 people died during a November 2008 assault. He was working for a Pakistani terrorist organization.

If Behera's record is any indication, Headley could be in for some tough questioning. The fabled lawman has been known to interrogate criminal suspects for 10 or 12 hours at a time with little stoppage. Once, according to news reports, when a suspect being questioned collapsed complaining of back pain, surgeons from the police hospital were summoned. They examined the man and declared that his condition was "not so serious',' prescribed medicines and the questioning continued.

Such heavy-handed tactics are not likely to be used while Headley is quizzed at the MCC in Chicago. The Indian team is being accompanied by special public prosecutor Dayan Krishnan to sort out any legal road blocks that could be put up by Headley's lawyers.

The Indian team will focus on finding out details of Headley's undercover trips to several places in India and whether he had put in place sleeper terror cells.

The team also hopes to interrogate him about his role in the bomb blast at German Bakery in Pune, his dealings with terror leaders in Pakistan and officers of the Pakistani army. Also, Justice Dept. officials in Washington have promised to provide details of the conspiracies that Headley is suspected to have hatched.

Mr. Behera was recently awarded the President's Medal for Distinguished Service, the one and only officer from India's National Investigation Agency to receive that honor. He has a long career in India as a police superintendent and inspector general but it has been Behera's work on sensational criminal cases that has seen him grab headlines in south Asia.

Once he led a 55-member team on a hike across miles of rugged mountains to retrieve the skeletons of murder victims. He has camped at the scenes of suspected terrorist attacks and has spent years working on a single case.

He is still in charge of India's most perplexing crime mystery: why it rained guns on a cold winter's night 15-years ago in a remote section of the West Bengal province. That evening, hundreds of AK-47 rifles, ammo and rocket launders were dropped by parachute from a cargo plane.

As many as 548 assault rifles, 11.3 tons of ammunition, anti-tank weapons and 165 rocket launchers packed in wooden crates were dropped from a Russian-made plane over Purulia on the night of December 17, 1995. The arms drop landed not too far away from the international headquarters of a Hindu cult with a history of violence against West Bengal's ruling communists.

It was heralded as the biggest crime in the history of India. Initially, nuclear rival Pakistan was accused of smuggling weapons to arm secessionist rebels in India's restive northeast. But to this day, the masterminds-and their intent-have never been determined.


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