Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) operative Pakistani-American David Headley, who played a key role in the deadly 2008 Mumbai terror attack, escaped the life sentence as a court here sentenced him to just 35 years in prison Thursday.
Headley, 52, Washington born son of a Pakistani diplomat and an American mother, faced life imprisonment without parole, but US District Judge Harry Leinenweber gave him a lesser sentence in line with the prosecution's recommendations.
Citing the "significant cooperation" provided by Headley to US government's efforts to combat terrorism, US federal prosecutors had sought only 30 to 35 years in prison for him.
Before imposing the 35-year prison term, the judge said he wanted to make sure Headley, who had changed his given name of Dawood Gilani to scout targets in Mumbai without arousing suspicion, is "never in a position again to commit a terrorist attack," the Chicago Tribune reported.
Leinenweber was sceptical of a letter that Headley recently wrote to him. "I don't have any faith in Mr. Headley when he says he's a changed person," the judge said.
Headley should be "under lock and key for the rest of his life," Leinenweber said.
In the letter, Headley claimed he was learning to embrace "American values" and coming to grips with how he was convinced to plan terrorist attacks under the guise of religious obligation, Leinenweber said.
"Headley's letter to the judge expressed his sincere remorse," Robert Seeder, one of Headley's attorney, told reporters after the sentencing.
"He did explain in that letter what led him to this and how sorry he was. And I think we'll leave it at that," he was quoted as saying by the Tribune.
During the hearing, another defence attorney told the judge that Headley "literally saved lives" by providing valuable information that "no one else knew" about terrorist activities.
"He has never minimised his role," attorney John Theis was quoted as saying by the Tribune. "He has accepted responsibility."
Theis told reporters later he had asked the judge for a specific sentence for Headley, but he declined to reveal the length, saying the request was made under seal.
Earlier, former US Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald, making a surprise appearance at the sentencing hearing, told Leinenweber he should consider the "unusual nature" of Headley's cooperation even though Headley was involved in a "very, very heinous crime."
On the night of his arrest at O'Hare International Airport, Headley "freely admitted" his role in the Mumbai massacre within half an hour of being given his Miranda rights, Fitzgerald said.
Miranda rights referer to a warning given to criminal suspects after arrest that their statements may be used against them in criminal proceedings.
Bomb-sniffing dogs checked the coats and bags of all the spectators entering Leinenweber's courtroom today. At one point, more than 100 people had lined up to attend the sentencing.