A court in Mumbai on Thursday pardoned David Coleman Headley, the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) operative who helped plan the 2008 attacks in the city, and accepted him as a prosecution witness, in a move likely to help nail another key accused in the case, Abu Jundal.
The pardon came on the condition that the 55-year-old US citizen divulge the details of the conspiracy, with chief prosecutor Ujjwal Nikam saying Headley could help establish direct evidence of the attack being planned from outside India.
Headley is serving a 35-year term at an undisclosed US prison for the attacks that killed 166 people.
The court's granting of pardon to Headley comes at a time when New Delhi and Islamabad are trying to establish a working amity, and unless his revelations about the involvement of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence in the attacks go beyond what is already known, they are unlikely to hurt the dialogue process.
As part of his plea bargain with US courts, Headley cannot be extradited to India to face trial but his testimony can help prosecute Jundal, a key planner of the attacks who is now in jail in Mumbai after being extradited from Saudi Arabia in 2012.
Headley, who deposed via video conferencing, said he had already agreed in US courts to make himself available as a witness in foreign judicial proceedings.
''I appeared here ready to answer questions regarding these events if I receive a pardon from the court,'' he said.
To this, Nikam sought 30 minutes to decide on the stand of the prosecution after which he gave four reasons for agreeing to the granting of conditional pardon.
''Headley knows the entire criminal conspiracy in the case and he admitted that in a US court,'' Nikam said after G A Sanap, the designated judge of the sessions court, granted pardon to the former informant of the US Drug Enforcement Agency.
''The conspiracy was hatched outside India and there is no direct evidence of it. It will strengthen the prosecution's case against the co-conspirator Abu Jundal.''
Sanap then read out the conditions to Headley, saying the latter should disclose all full and true facts leading to the attacks.
The judge observed, ''In my view David Coleman Headley's evidence should be of immense importance. There should not be any hitch in accepting the submission to make him an approver by tendering him pardon.
If the request made by such a person who was directly involved is rejected, it will be very difficult for the prosecution to bring on record the direct evidence. Therefore I am inclined to accept the submission.''
Headley accepted the conditions and signed a piece of paper that said he understood the order.
Headley's evidence will be recorded in court on 8 February next year.
In a plea deal with the US in 2010, Headley obtained in return for cooperating with the authorities completely, immunity from the death penalty and protection from extradition to face trial in a foreign country.
In June 2010, just two months after signing the deal, he was interrogated by officials from India's National Investigating Agency for seven days. He cooperated fully, officials had said.