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India wants to question U.S. man on Mumbai attack

NEW DELHI (Reuters) - India is seeking access to interrogate a Chicago man who pleaded guilty to scouting targets for the 2008 Mumbai attacks in a U.S. court this week, the home minister said on Friday.

Pigeons fly near the burning Taj Mahal hotel in Mumbai November 27, 2008. REUTERS/Punit Paranjpe

David Headley, 49, admitted involvement in preparations for the attack on India’s financial hub, which killed 166 people and prompted India to break off a formal peace dialogue with neighbouring Pakistan.

Home Minister Palaniappan Chidambaram said though authorities in United States had shared “a significant amount of information” about Headley, New Delhi had “many more questions” and was gearing up to charge him “at the appropriate time.”

India wants to interrogate Headley or be able to ask him questions in a court testimony, Chidambaram said.

“There are many more questions that we want to ask, much more information which we wish to get,” he told reporters. “I will continue to press for access to Headley in the sense that he will testify in a proceeding or subject himself to interrogation.”

“We have not given up our plea for extradition,” he added.

Headley has been cooperating with U.S. investigators since his arrest in October and faces up to life in prison. He has pleaded to 12 counts, including conspiring to bomb and murder U.S. and Indian citizens.

In an agreement with prosecutors, Headley promised to help investigators and give testimony against others in exchange for a pledge he would not be extradited to India, Pakistan or Denmark.

U.S. Assistant Secretary Robert Blake, on a two-day trip to India, said Headley will not be extradited as part of a plea bargain, but assured Indian authorities of more cooperation.

“I think you will have full access to all the information and whether or not an Indian team can itself go, I just can’t answer the question,” Blake, who met senior Indian government officials on Friday, told reporters in New Delhi.

Headley, who spent his childhood in Pakistan and whose father is Pakistani, is also charged with plotting a revenge attack on a Danish newspaper that published controversial cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammed in 2005.

India has signalled it is open to a new round of talks with Pakistan after the nuclear-armed rivals held their first official talks since the Mumbai strike last month.

Improved ties between the two are seen as key to regional stability.

Writing by Matthias Williams; Editing by Bappa Majumdar and Sugita Katyal