Faiza and I: George Mapp recounts his encounters with David Headley’s third wife Faiza Outalha
A backpacker and blogger recounts his encounters with David Headley’s third wife Faiza Outalha. In December, the Indian government asked the Morocco government for access to Outalha.
He says he quit the pressures of a career on Wall Street after 9/11 and turned to India seeking spiritual relief and a calmer life. According to his own account, the decision proved fateful, with his life taking a dramatically opposite direction instead.
George Alexander Mapp, Jr, a 47-year-old African American, briefly became a much sought after person by Indian intelligence agencies in relation to the Mumbai attacks of November 26, 2008, thanks to his acquaintance with Faiza Outalha, the woman he says is still married to David Coleman Headley, the Pakistani American recently sentenced to 35 years in prison by a US court for playing a critical role in the attack.
Now a blogger and investigative journalist based in New York, Mapp says he is in regular and frequent touch with Outalha, and is working on a book that will cover the aftermath of the 26/11 attacks on his life besides other equally dramatic events, persons and interactions. His initial working title for the project, Drug Smugglers, Gun Runners, Russian Intelligence Officers and Terrorists’ Wives, is a clear pointer to its contents.
“I was the Number One terrorist suspect in India because David Headley and I knew the same woman; I was in Old Manali, so was Faiza; Headley had a 5-year visa, I had a 10-year visa, he was American, I was American, there was a lot of circumstantial evidence,” said Mapp in an interview from New York.
Mapp has since renamed his book The Accidental Terrorist, which he says sums up his involvement with the 26/11 investigation and acquaintance with Outalha. It was a connection that spanned an unlikely combination of India, Morocco and cyberspace.
They first met in May 2008 in Old Manali in Himachal Pradesh through a mutual friend, according to Mapp. She told him she was divorced. “She made some references to her ex like he was – the way she talked about him was like he was a Mafia kind of guy, ‘Oh, he’s wanted in Delhi’, something like that,” recalls Mapp. But they talked about Headley “very, very little” he says, even as he and Outalha “got very close”.
Mapp says he ended up in Old Manali by accident. He had been in an internet cafe in Delhi’s Paharganj, trying to book a trip to Rishikesh because he wanted to see the Himalayas. But he learnt that Rishikesh was in the foothills and a lot of people he met advised him to go to Manali instead. So he took an 18-hour bus ride there from Delhi.
That journey actually began a few years ago in the US, when he quit a career as an international equities trader with firms like UBS and Deutsche Bank a couple of years after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. “It became more stressful after 9/11. Volumes dried up, margins dried up, electronic trading really affected our spreads. I got burned out,” says Mapp, explaining why he left a lucrative career to go to a massage school in New Jersey. While working as a masseur in Pennsylvania, Mapp says he was introduced to kirtans and developed a devotion to the Indian godwoman Mata Amritanandamayi, widely known as “Amma”. He first visited India in 2006 to meet “Amma” at her ashram in Kerala, was fascinated by the country and was back in 2008 on a trip that eventually led to his meeting with Outalha.
“She was a very sweet, kind and caring person,” he says about Outalha, with long pauses before each adjective. Indian investigators might describe her very differently given her relationship with Headley and alleged acquaintance with Pakistan-based terrorist Hafeez Sayeed. “I just knew that she was Muslim, I knew she was originally from Morocco, I knew that she lived in Pakistan and thatâs pretty much all I knew, and that she was divorced,” says Mapp. She had told him she went to Pakistan from Morocco to enroll in some kind of medical studies programme, and had met her husband at a cafe there. He believed Outalha was in Old Manali on a vacation.
When she was returning to Pakistan, Mapp says, he saw her off. “I was the last person to see her – I walked her to the taxi, she actually took a taxi from Old Manali to the Wagah border. I walked her there, gave her a hug and said goodbye and we stayed in touch quite a bit.” He had saved her number on his cellphone under the name “Chello Pakistan”.
Indian officials questioned him later about how Outalha, a Moroccan national, had crossed into Pakistan at Wagah, and about the apparent ease with which she had got her Indian visa extended at Kullu. “I told them that Faiza is very persuasive,” says Mapp, drawing out the last word, “unbelievably persuasive”. He added, “She was very driven, determined is the right word, if she had her mind set on something it’s almost impossible to stop her, she’s not scared of confrontation. If she felt somebody cheated her or tried to take advantage on prices, like taxis or whatever, she would fight them. I’ve seen her do it in India and I saw her do it in Morocco when I went to visit her.”
According to Mapp, some time after she returned to Pakistan, they stopped communicating in September 2008. He says he figured out why later after he learned during his questioning that she had remarried Headley. “She used to be flirtatious and joke a lot, and then she started saying ‘Oh, that’s offensive to me’. But a few weeks ago, a month ago, it wasn’t offensive. And then she said I have to delete all my pictures and stuff and I have to close my account, goodbye, blah blah blah. I think shortly after that she got remarried to him and she started acting more like a devout Muslim, you know – her attitude changed so I guess that’s when Headley came back into her life.”
Strangely, however, for someone who says he is in regular touch with Outalha, Mapp claims he never asked why she and Headley got back together, especially as he believed she was “emotionally scarred” and “hurt by whatever happened between the two of them the first time”. “By the time we saw each other again in Morocco and got reunited she had already remarried him so to me it was useless to ask why you did it and I know she wasn’t feeling good because he never had any contact with her so I didn’t want to rub it in,” says Mapp.
About a year after the Mumbai attack, Mapp says he was walking on the beach in Palolem, Goa with his then pregnant girlfriend when policemen and officials from the National Intelligence Agency surrounded him and escorted him back to his flat for days of questioning. He underwent over 30 hours of questioning, and 4-5 hours into the process, he says he learned about the connection between Outalha and Headley. The girlfriend, who is now his wife, gave birth to their daughter a few days later in India, and the family now lives in New York.
And about a year after his run-in with Indian investigators, Mapp started blogging about the experience and the 26/11 case, and wrote a blog titled Kiss and Tell: Intimacies with David Headley’s Ex-Wife, Faiza Outalha, dated October 10, 2010. He says he and Outalha reconnected shortly afterward. Initially, a lot of their communication was about Headley. “NIA was trying to get her quite a bit…she was still healing from the whole thing and getting over it.” Mapp visited her in Morocco in December 2010, staying for about six weeks. They planned to write a book jointly but it didn’t work out.
“When I saw her she was praying often, she had her hajib (sic) on and more than anything she’s just really frustrated because she hadn’t heard from Headley,” says Mapp. According to him, Outalha wants to get divorced from Headley and get on with her life, but can’t afford to go to the US and hire a lawyer for the divorce. “They’re still married, she tells me, that she has proof.”
If Mapp’s involvement with Outalha and the 26/11 investigation sounds fantastical at times, it seems par for the course going by his other stories. He has blogged about Viktor Bout, a convicted Russian arms smuggler currently serving a 25-year prison term in an American prison. Mapp wrote about meeting Bout in a Thailand court in October 2010 and interviewed him in a US prison last July. He mentioned that Bout “was able to read my Sanskrit tattoos with no problem”, and urged readers to send the prisoner books in “Portuguese, Hindi, Urdu, Persian, Russian, and yes, even in English”.
Mapp accuses the US government of adopting double standards for Bout and Headley. While it successfully fought for the extradition of Russian citizen Bout to the US and tried him in an American court, it refused to consider extraditing US citizen Headley even though he was accused of committing terrorist acts directly on Indian soil, he writes.
However, former CIA official Bruce Riedel, who is now Director of the Brookings Intelligence Project at the Washington, DC think tank, says Headley’s sentence, while it may cause dissatisfaction in India, was part of a process that gave intelligence agencies critical information. “From the standpoint of a professional intelligence officer trying to fight terrorism, securing (Headley’s) cooperation to give information about who was involved, how it was done was invaluable. It gives us the best insights we have into the working of the Lashkar-e-Taiba and its patron, the ISI,” says Riedel.
In his interview, Mapp even insinuated Headley might not serve his full prison sentence. “David Headley is a ghost, nobody knows where he is. He’s in an undisclosed location, isn’t that strange? There’s no proof he’s in prison,” Mapp said, referring to a system through which he insists he has tracked other prisoners in the US. Riedel dismissed such theories out of hand: “It strikes me as extremely unlikely. Headley’s going to serve his time in an American prison.”
For now, with Headley in prison, investigators may believe Outalha could have some more information towards fully unlocking the 26/11 conspiracy. But the man who admits he once had a close relationship with her and claims he still keeps in touch regularly, says he has no answers. “I know everybody in India wants to know this question, how much did she know – and I honestly don’t know,” says Mapp. He may be saving it for his book.