I am a man’: The making of a terrorist, 1984

The making of a terrorist, 1984

4 minute read
Mumbai, 2008: The bartender had bigger plans, apparently.
Mumbai, 2008: The bartender had bigger plans, apparently.
It was January 1984. Daood had been so sure abut Super Bowl VXIII. "Put every cent you've got on the Raiders," he'd said. "Bet your rent. Your paycheck. Rob a bank. Put it all on the Raiders."

That was David (Daood) Headley, 21 and cocksure. He had one blue eye and one brown eye and bragged about his arsenal of guns. He seemed like any other six-foot gorgeous Ivy Leaguer at Princeton (where he said he was enrolled) until he opened his mouth and the most mind-numbing fanatic nonsense came out, dressed up in a vaguely British accent.

Daood claimed to be a Shiite. It's certain he had been raised in the Middle East by his father's relatives until his mother, Serrill Headley, decided enough was enough. But his reasons for no longer attending class were various and changed from day to day. Perhaps Daood suddenly realized caliphs didn't have much cachet at Princeton. In any case, he'd taken on the night shift at his mother's bar— Khyber Pass North, at 17th and Callowhill in Philadelphia. I worked the day shift.

"This is one fucking sure thing," Daood said while I cashed out. "Believe it. You are a fool if you don't do it." The rowdy Saturday night crowd was already pushing and shoving at the bar. "You American women act so take-charge. But you lack courage. Particularly you older ones. You are afraid."

"'Trust me'

"Damn right I'm afraid," I said. "Who's going to pay my rent when the Redskins win. You?"

"They won't win. I promise you. The Raiders are a sure thing. Trust me."

"Right. There's a little missy who comes here every night who trusts you, and God help her. And there's that 40-something who drinks too much because of the little missy and she trusts you. And there's your mother who's always picking up the pieces. Trust you and get fucked, is what I say."

"What the hell," he replied. "I am a man. You're just women. You're ninnies, the pack of you. And here are your magnificent weekly wages." He reached into his shirt pocket and handed me a little yellow envelope. "How did you do on tips this week?"

"Rotten. Day-shift gets stiffed, as you know."

"All the more reason. Give me back the envelope. I assure you, I will give you double on Monday."

"Tell you what I'm gonna do, slick," I said. "I'll give you 50 bucks. Put it on the Raiders. But I'll personally run your ass back to Baghdad if they lose." I drew two 20s and a ten out of the envelope and handed them over.

"Why not the whole thing?" he asked.

"Because I think you're full of crap."

"Yes. I am. That is surely true." He smiled his dazzling behold-I-am-God smile and patted my hand. "But about this, I promise you. It's a sure thing."

A clot of admirers

By the time I had my end-of-shift drink and figured out— was I short, long or for once had the right amount in the till?— Daood was collecting wads of cash from a clot of admirers at the end of the bar and ranting about spreads and his sure thing.

I figured it would be worth $50 to have an interest in the game. Raiders, Redskins, who cared? Now I cared.

The Raiders did win, and Daood did pay off, which I knew he would. But over the ensuing quarter-century, I often wondered: What had made him so sure? How did he know?

The other day Daood surfaced again, this time as the accused mastermind behind last year's rampage in Mumbai, India, that left 163 people dead. He had, apparently, finally found a sure way to make people stop laughing at him.♦

This article is excerpted from a story posted on Joy Tomme's blog at

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