Wednesday, Aug 17, 2022

Continuing Mystery

Despite the painstaking work by Nomani and her colleagues, the mystery surrounding the kidnapping and murder of Pearl still remains unresolved. Many questions remain unanswered satisfactorily

Continuing Mystery
Continuing Mystery

In the first week of March 2003, I had written an article How Not To Wage War On Terrorism 

In that article, I had stated inter alia as follows: 

"Remember the Pearl case? Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence claimed to have solved the case without recovering the dead body and prosecuted Sheikh Omar and his accomplices. The court was told they were the only plotters who deserved to be convicted and sentenced to death. 

Even as the trial was mid-way, Pakistani security agencies, while investigating another case, fell upon a group of some other terrorists belonging to the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen (International). During the interrogation, they surprised Pakistani and US intelligence agencies by claiming it was they who had killed Pearl. They led the police to a spot on the outskirts of Karachi where Pearl's remains were found buried. Forensic tests confirmed their finding and the remains were subsequently handed over to his widow. 

Under the law, when a confession made by a suspect leads to some material recovery such as a murder weapon or a dead body, there is an automatic presumption that the entire confession is correct. So, if the Pakistani and US agencies had followed the due process of law, they should have withdrawn the case from court, re-investigated it and submitted a fresh charge-sheet. 

They did nothing of the sort. 

Instead, they kept away information about the recovery of Pearl's remains and the arrests of the new suspects from the court. When the defence counsel for Sheikh Omar asked the court to take cognisance of media reports in this regard and order a re-investigation, the court declined to do so. It sentenced Sheikh Omar to death and the other accused to life imprisonment. Their appeals have not been disposed of because Pakistani officials have not yet sorted out the confusion created by the recovery of Pearl's remains on information provided by some terrorists who had not been prosecuted in the case."

On March 1, 2003, a joint team of the ISI (Inter-Services Intelligence ) and US intelligence raided a house in Rawalpindi in an area where many retired officers of the Pakistan army and the ISI live and arrested three people. One of the arrested men was identified as Khalid Sheikh Mohammad (KSM), a close aide of Osama bin Laden and the alleged mastermind of the 9/11 terrorist strikes in the US. The ISI handed him over to the US intelligence, which flew him initially to Diego Garcia and then to the Guantanamo Bay detention centre for Al Qaeda and other terrorist suspects in Cuba. Shortly thereafter, rumors started circulating that KSM had claimed during his interrogation that it was he who had killed Daniel Pearl.

In an article titled Warning Bells For Musharraf?  written by me on October 23, 2003,  I had stated inter alia as follows: 

"Oct. 22, 2003 | Last Thursday, a senior White House official called Mariane Pearl and Paul Steiger, the managing editor of the Wall Street Journal, to report a new, key development in the investigation into the death of Mariane's husband, Journal reporter Daniel Pearl. "We have now established enough links and credible evidence to think that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed" -- the mastermind behind the 9/11 attacks -- "was involved in your husband's murder," the official told Mariane.

"What do you mean 'involved'?" Mariane asked.

"We think he committed the actual murder."

So says a sensational article on the kidnapping and murder of Danial Pearl, the US journalist, written by Asra Q. Nomani, the free-lance journalist, then living in Karachi, in whose house Pearl and his wife Mariane had stayed when he went on his ill-fated trip to Karachi from Mumbai last year to investigate a report that an e-mail which had directed Richard Reid, the shoe bomber, to carry out his operation to blow up an American aircraft had originated from Karachi and that the e-mail had been sent by the Jamaat-ul-Fuqra, a Pakistani organisation with many sleeper cells in the USA, Canada and the West Indies, including in the US Armed Forces.

In the year 2000, a mysterious web site calling for solidarity amongst the Muslims serving in the Armed Forces of the world suddenly appeared and started registering such Muslims. While it could not be definitively established as to who was behind the web site, Police sources in Pakistan suspected that the Fuqra cells in the USA were behind it. One does not know whether Pearl knew all this when he arrived in Karachi, but his investigation, for as yet unknown reasons, was focussed on the background and activities of this organisation and its leaders.

In the hundreds of reports -- open as well as confidential -- which had emanated from Pakistan till now on his murder, the name of Khalid Sheikh Mohammad (KSM) had not figured. The Pervez Musharraf regime initially projected the murder as the work of the banned Jaish-e-Mohammad (JEM), which continues to be active despite the so-called ban, and then the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LEJ), the banned Sunni extremist organisation, and then others.

Omar Sheikh, a British citizen of Pakistani origin, who had been working for the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) since the early 1990s and who used to head the Lahore cell of AL Qaeda, was ultimately blamed along with some others. The appeal filed by him against the death sentence awarded to him by the anti-terrorism court and by the other accused against the prison sentences awarded to them has not been heard so far. The hearing on the appeal is being repeatedly postponed on some ground or the other.

Even as the hearing in the anti-terrorism court was on, the Pakistani media reported that the Pakistani authorities had in custody some other suspects, including some Yemeni-Balochis, who confessed to murdering Pearl. It was also reported that it was on their confession that the remains of Pearl were recovered by the Pakistani authorities.

Under the law in any country, when material objects relating to a case are recovered on the basis of a confessional statement of a suspect, the confession is presumed to be correct unless proved otherwise. Surprisingly, the Pakistani authorities did not charge these new suspects with the murder of Pearl. The anti-terrorism court, under pressure from the Musharraf regime, refused to take cognisance of the media reports in this connection and call for the production of the new suspects before the court. It accepted the denial of the state that any such confession had been made.

While the fact that it was an Yemeni-Balochi, who had slit the throat of Pearl before a video camera, had surfaced before, none of the reports so far had identified KSM as the man who did it. The revelation of KSM's role, if correct, raises a host of intriguing questions for which there are no answers at present:

  • Did the Yemeni-Balochi suspects, referred to by the Pakistani media, speak about the role of KSM?  If so, did the Pakistani authorities tell the US about it?
  • Did Omar Sheikh mention KSM when he was in the informal custody of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) for some days after his voluntary surrender to a retired officer of the ISI, who was functioning as the Home Secretary of Punjab in February last year?
  • Did Omar Sheikh tell the Karachi Police about the role of KSM when he was subsequently interrogated by them?
  • Did KSM tell the ISI about his role when it interrogated him for some hours after his arrest at Rawalpindi in March last before handing him over to the US authorities?

  • Was KSM's role independently known to the Pakistani authorities? If so, up to what level?
  • Did Musharraf himself know about it? Was the US kept informed?
  • If the Pakistani authorities knew about it, why did they readily hand him over to the US whereas they have not only adamantly refused to hand over Omar Sheikh, but even declined to allow the British to independently interrogate him, as reported by the Daily Times of Lahore?

A report carried by the Guardian of the UK on March 19,2007, under the title "Confession triggers appeal in Daniel Pearl case" stated as follows:

" Lawyers for British-born Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh, who is under a death sentence for the murder of the US journalist Daniel Pearl, are planning an appeal based on a confession last week by a top al-Qaida figure.

"Sheikh, originally from Wantstead, east London, was sentenced to death in 2002 for the kidnapping and beheading of Pearl, a Wall Street Journal reporter abducted in Pakistan while researching a story on Islamist militants.

"But Khalid Sheikh Mohammed - the self-proclaimed mastermind of the attacks on the US of September 11 2001 - said in a confession released by the Pentagon last week that it was he who killed Pearl.

"Sheik's lawyer, Rai Basheer Ahmed, who described his client's conviction as "a gross miscarriage of justice", said he planned to make an appeal based on Mohammed's confession.

"In the next court hearing, I am going to submit the recent statement by Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in which he said he himself beheaded the US journalist," Mr Ahmed told Reuters. "From day one, my contention was that the evidence presented in court was not strong enough to lead to the conviction of my client."

"Mohammed (KSM) admitted involvement in more than 30 attacks or plots during a hearing at the Guantanamo Bay prison camp.

"I decapitated with my blessed right hand the head of the American Jew Daniel Pearl," Mohammed said, according to a transcript of his statement.

"But intelligence experts are skeptical of Mohammed's confession. Robert Baer, a former CIA field officer assigned to the Middle East, said Mohammed, described as KSM by the US authorities, came across as "boasting, at times mentally unstable".

"Writing in Time magazine, Mr Baer said: "I'm told by people involved in the investigation that KSM was present during Wall Street Journal correspondent Danny Pearl's execution but was in fact not the person who killed him. There exists videotape footage of the execution that minimises KSM's role."

"Mohammed, 42, a Pakistani brought up in Kuwait, was arrested in Pakistan in March 2003 and handed over to the Americans.

"In the transcript Mohammed claimed that Pearl, who had been investigating a trip made by Richard Reid, the would-be shoe-bomber, to Pakistan, had been working for the Israeli intelligence agency Mossad.

"Pearl disappeared in the southern Pakistani city of Karachi in January 2002.

"The video of the killing, entitled The Slaughter of the Spy-journalist, the Jew Daniel Pearl, shows a man cutting Pearl's head off. His severed head is then held up by the hair. In the transcript Mohammed says: "For those who would like to confirm, there are pictures of me on the internet holding his head."

"Sheikh, who attended the private Forest school in Snaresbrook, east London and who dropped out of the London School of Economics, was sentenced to death while three co-accused were jailed for life.

"The convicts appealed to the Sindh provincial high court in July 2002. The government also appealed to the same court, asking for more severe penalties for the co-accused.

"But court hearings have been repeatedly postponed, mostly because of the absence of lawyers representing the convicts. Under Pakistani law, a convict has the right to appeal in superior courts but no case can be heard if lawyers of the convict are absent."

In a report titled "Suspects in Pearl case yet to be tried over fears of damaging testimonies", the "Dawn" of Karachi reported as follows on September 23,2008:

"KARACHI, Sept 22: Two high-profile militants of the banned Lashkar-i-Jhangvi, Attaur Rehman and Faisal Bhatti, who were picked up under suspicion of involvement in the kidnapping and murder of US journalist Daniel Pearl, have remained in the custody of police and intelligence agencies for over six years without being charged, reportedly because their testimony may lead to a retrial of Shaikh Omar and his associates, who were found guilty of the kidnapping and murder in 2002.

"Sources in the intelligence agencies said that in addition to having been involved in several sectarian killings, Rehman (alias Naeem Bukhari) and Bhatti (alias Zubair Chishti) were believed to have arranged a location on the outskirts of Karachi, where they kept Pearl after he was kidnapped in January 2002, and subsequently handed the victim over to some Arabs who eventually killed him.
The two militants were picked up from the Nazimabad area in June 2002 but none of the law-enforcement agencies acknowledged their arrest until 2007. On June 29, 2002, the Sindh home department published an advertisement declaring Rehman and Bhatti to be most-wanted terrorists and announcing a collective reward for Rs6 million for their arrest.

"The pair’s relatives went to the Sindh High Court to challenge their illegal detention but the government insisted that neither of the men were under its custody. At the time these petitions were being heard, lawyer Aamir Mansoob Qureshi had quoted reports from the media that referred to the arrest of the men and the recovery of a large quantity of arms and ammunition from them. He had requested the court to bring the alleged recovery on the record so that if the police claimed the arrest of the suspected detainees in the future, the weapons’ cache could not be attributed to them.

"Nevertheless, it was eventually on June 2, 2007, that the Kashmor police claimed to have arrested Rehman and Bhatti for possessing illegal weapons and explosive materials. The announcement of their arrest was made in order to escape action by the Supreme Court, which was hearing cases of ‘missing persons’ amongst whom the two militants were counted. At the time, Kashmor police chief Noor Ahmed Paichuho and other officials claimed that Rehman and Bhatti were being interrogated with reference to the Pearl murder case.
Neither of the men have, however, been produced so far in any court of law in connection with the Pearl case. The outcome of their interrogations was never made public and they are currently being held in Sukkur Prison.

"Senior security officials told Dawn that the trial regarding Pearl’s kidnapping and murder was at its final stages when Rehman and Bhatti were arrested. Had the arrests been shown, they claimed, it would have ruined the prosecution’s argument that Ahmed Omar Saeed Shaikh, aka Shaikh Omar, and his accomplices were involved in the kidnapping and killing of the Wall Street reporter.

"We held day-long discussions with intelligence and government officials and prosecutors in order to decide whether or not to acknowledge the arrest of Attaur Rehman and Faisal Bhatti,” said a senior official on the condition of anonymity. “The common view was that the acknowledgement would ruin the prosecution’s argument and would lead to the acquittal of Shaikh Omar and his associates, so we decided not to announce their arrest.”

"A month after Rehman and Bhatti were arrested, on July 15, 2002, an Anti-Terrorism Court in Hyderabad handed down a death sentence to Shaikh Omar, and life terms to his three associates, for the kidnapping and murder of Daniel Pearl.

"The official said that as a result of an unusual delay in the hearing of the appeals filed by the men convicted in the Pearl case, the police were forced to refrain from acknowledging the arrest of Rehman and Bhatti. “They were held secretly at different locations but it was the missing person’s case that forced the government to finally acknowledge their arrest in 2007,” he explained.

“Once the arrests were acknowledged, a fresh petition was moved in the Sindh High Court through which the petitioner asked the court to record the statements of both Attaur Rehman and Faisal Bhatti, in order to ascertain where they had been kept in illegal custody between 2002 and June, 2007.

"At a recent hearing, the additional advocate-general of Sindh presented a statement on behalf of the Sindh home department, which said that Rehman and Bhatti were wanted in eight criminal cases. However, the list of cases did not include the Pearl murder case.

"The petitioners’ counsel Aamir Mansoob told Dawn that his clients should be given the chance to appear before the court and record statements, so that it could be ascertained where they have been for the five years before their arrest was acknowledged by law enforcement agencies. “This is my sole plea to the court,” he said.

"However, a source maintained that since the government was in no mood to reopen the Pearl murder case, it was unlikely to allow Rehman and Bhatti to record statements and apprise the court of their story, since that would go in favour of Shaikh Omar and his associates.

“We would face a nightmarish situation if either of the two militants confessed before a court of law to involvement in the Pearl murder case,” said a senior security officer. “I advised the government not to charge them in the Pearl case since otherwise, this would lead to a retrial of Shaikh Omar and his associates, and the acquittal of all the men already convicted. And if that had happened, our credibility would have been questioned by the whole world.”

"According to this officer, this was also the reason why the government did not initiate prosecution proceedings against one of the absconders in the Pearl murder case, Hashim Qadeer (alias Arif), who was formally arrested in August 2005 under suspicion of involvement in the Pearl case. Since then, however, he has remained incarcerated in a Karachi jail without having faced trial."

A report titled "US Journalist Daniel Pearl was Killed by 9/11 Mastermind" carried by the "Epoch Times" of the US on January 20, 2011, stated as follows:

"The four men convicted in the murder of U.S. reporter Daniel Pearl, who was beheaded in Pakistan nine years ago, were involved but were not the killers, a report released on Thursday (January 20) says.

"The three-year-long probe into the Feb. 1, 2002 murder, conducted by Georgetown University’s The Pearl Project, concluded that in all, 27 men played a role in the capture and murder of the former Wall Street Journal bureau chief. Fourteen of them are still at large have taken part in other terrorist activities since, the report said. Another four of the 27 men are now dead, and five are detained or missing.

"The report concludes that Pakistani officials used false testimony to try and quickly close the case by pinning the actual murder on Omar Sheikh, who was the mastermind behind the operation but not the actual killer.

"British-born Sheikh and three other men were convicted of Pearl’s killing, but according to the Georgetown team, they were actually not present when he was slain. However, they are still implicated in the crime.

“The Pearl Project reveals that justice was not served for Danny,” former Wall Street Journal reporter Asra Q. Nomani stated. “We couldn’t save him, but we have uncovered the truth left behind. Through his death, Danny teaches us important lessons about the reality on the ground in Pakistan regarding militancy, Islamic extremism and terrorism.”

"Alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed’s interviews with FBI agents in Guantanamo were examined by researchers. KSM, as he’s known, told the FBI that he personally slit Pearl’s throat and severed his head. He may have been assisted by two of his nephews, Musaad Aruchi and Ali Abdul Aziz Ali.

"Aruchi’s whereabouts are unknown. Ali, according to Human Rights Watch, was reportedly arrested in 2003 and held by the CIA until being transferred to Guantanamo Bay in September 2006 where he remains.

"Pearl was kidnapped when he was on his way to interview alleged “shoe bomber” Richard Reid, the man who attempted to blow up a passenger jet over the Atlantic Ocean.

“Pearl’s sad fate is well known, but details about the many players who perpetrated the crime have been shrouded—until now,” said William E. Buzenberg, the executive director of the Center for Public Integrity according to the report.

"Former Wall Street Journal reporter Asra Q. Nomani and Georgetown University Journalism Director Barbara Feinman Todd together with 32 students conducted the research for the report."

It is learnt that Ms.Nomani's family had migrated to Pakistan from Hyderabad in India after 1947. She subsequently went to the US and reportedly worked for some months with Pearl in the New York office of the "Wall Street Journal." She subsequently resigned from the WSJ and went to Karachi to work on a research project. She continued to be in touch with Pearl and his wife Mariane. Pearl was transferred from New York to Mumbai to report for the WSJ from there. He, along with his wife, went to Karachi from Mumbai in January 2002 on a reporting assignment. It is believed they stayed with Nomani and that Pearl went for his ill-fated meeting with some individuals with whom he was in touch through E-mail from Mumbai but whom he had not known in a taxi. He never returned from the meeting. He fell into a trap, was  kidnapped and then murdered.

After his kidnapping, Omar Sheikh surrendered to Brig. (retd) Ejaz Shah, then serving as the Home Secretary of the Government of Punjab in Lahore. When he did so, Pervez Musharraf was on a visit to the US. During his interactions with officials and the media in the US Musharraf did not mention about the surrender of Omar Sheikh. Ejaz Shah handed over Omar to the ISI, which, in turn, handed him over to the Karachi police. The indications from Pakistani sources have been that while Omar orchestrated the trapping and kidnapping of Pearl, he was already in the custody of the Pakistani authorities when Pearl was allegedly murdered in custody by KSM.

There were thus two sub-conspiracies in the main conspiracy against Pearl. The first related to his kidnapping in which Omar was involved and the second relating to his murder which was carried out by KSM. Ejaz Shah was subsequently appointed by Musharraf as the head of the Pakistani Intelligence Bureau. He left that post after Musharraf's exit as the President in 2009. Before Benazir Bhutto returned from political exile in October,2007, she had reportedly expressed fears that there could be a threat to her life from Ejaz Shah and Qari Saifullah Akhtar, the head of the Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami (HUJ). While no investigation was ordered by the Government of Prime Minister Yousef Raza Gilani into the alleged role of Shah, Qari Akhtar was taken into custody by the police and interrogated. He was released on the ground that there was no evidence against him.

Despite the painstaking work by Nomani and her colleagues, the mystery surrounding the kidnapping and murder of Pearl still remains unresolved. Many questions remain unanswered satisfactorily: Why was he targeted? Which individuals and organisations were involved in the conspiracy to kidnap him and in the subsequent conspiracy to kill him? Why they killed him? When did the ISI, the IB, and the Karachi Police come to know of the conspiracy-- before the kidnapping at the stage of planning or after he was kidnapped, but before his execution or after his execution? What was the role of Ejaz Shah in the case? Was Musharraf aware while he was in the US of the surrender of Omar to Ejaz? If so, did he inform the US authorities about it? If not, why not? Why the Pakistani authorities are silent on the involvement of KSM and others? Why are they against a re-investigation of the case? Why did Benazir fear a threat to her life from Ejaz Shah? Why the US has not been pressing Pakistan for a re-investigation? Why a retired US intelligence official has cast doubts on the credibility of the confession of KSM?

It is important to revisit the investigation made so far and go into all these questions, but one has an impression that neither the US nor Pakistan is interested in a re-investigation.

Nomani is a very well-informed person on terrorism emanating from Pakistan. She had contributed a detailed article on the recent murder of Salman Taseer, the Governor of Punjab, by one of his security guards to the online edition of Foreign Policy on January 5. 

B. Raman is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai.


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