The Pearl Project

The Truth Left Behind

Part 1 — Finishing Danny’s Work
By Asra Q. Nomani, Barbara Feinman Todd, Katie Balestra, Kira Zalan

On the morning of May 17, 2002, Pakistani police investigator Fayyaz Khan ordered officers to dig inside a compound in the Gulzar-e-Hijri neighborhood, a poor area on Karachi’s outskirts. It was not a pleasant task. At the scene, Randall Bennett, the U.S. State Department’s regional security officer in Karachi, lit a cigarette to mask the stench of death.

This was the stomach-turning culmination of the search for kidnapped Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl. He had been abducted nearly four months earlier on January 23 while trying to chase down possible Pakistani connections to “shoe bomber” Richard Reid, the British Muslim man who attempted to blow up an American Airlines jetliner over the Atlantic.

Gently, under the watchful eye of a colonel in Pakistan’s intelligence agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate, or ISI, police officers lifted their find. First: a skull four doctors on the scene said had been “decapitated,” the U.S. consul general, John Bauman, later wrote in a State Department cable. Then the upper torso, still wearing the light blue track suit that Pearl’s kidnappers had him wear. Pearl’s body, cut into about 12 pieces, was removed. This outcome, sadly, came as little surprise. A gruesome videotape had circulated earlier, drawing worldwide attention, showing Pearl’s beheading by a man whose face the camera never revealed.

Gently, under the watchful eye of a colonel in Pakistan’s intelligence agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate, or ISI, police officers lifted their find. First: a skull four doctors on the scene said had been “decapitated,” the U.S. consul general, John Bauman, later wrote in a State Department cable. Then the upper torso, still wearing the light blue track suit that Pearl’s kidnappers had him wear. Pearl’s body, cut into about 12 pieces, was removed. This outcome, sadly, came as little surprise. A gruesome videotape had circulated earlier, drawing worldwide attention, showing Pearl’s beheading by a man whose face the camera never revealed.

Locating the remains, however, was a breakthrough. Pakistani police and U.S. officials for the first time had established a link to Pearl’s actual murderers. The man who led police to the site, a young militant named Fazal Karim, sat in jail across town.

Picked up in connection with the bombing of the Sheraton Karachi Hotel on May 8, Karim told Pakistani police investigator Fayyaz Khan that he had been one of the guards holding Pearl. He said he witnessed the murder by three men whom he described variously as “Arabs” or as “Balochis,” a reference to natives of Pakistan’s restive Baluchistan province abutting Afghanistan and Iran.

But it would be more than another year before the actual perpetrator would say that he was the unidentified man wielding the knife that killed Pearl.

That man was Al Qaeda operative Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, a Balochi raised in Kuwait, who confessed to the Pearl murder after being apprehended by Pakistani and U.S. agents for his alleged role as the 9/11 mastermind.

That man was Al Qaeda operative Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, a Balochi raised in Kuwait, who confessed to the Pearl murder after being apprehended by Pakistani and U.S. agents for his alleged role as the 9/11 mastermind.

The details of his confession to the CIA remain classified, but the Pearl Project has learned some details of what he told two FBI agents, Frank Pellegrino and John Mulligan, who interviewed him in Guantanamo Bay in 2007. “I wanted to make sure that I got the death penalty,” he said, according to a source. The FBI agents were part of a “clean team,” tasked to get material that could be used in a criminal trial. In the interview, the Pearl Project has learned, KSM said he was pulled into the kidnapping by a high-level leader in Al Qaeda circles today, an Egyptian named Saif al-Adel.

U.S. officials have released a transcript of a hearing in which KSM admitted his role in the murder. His admission is corroborated by Pakistani police interrogation reports of at least two suspects involved in the kidnapping. One of them is Muhammad Rasheed, a driver from the northern Pakistani district of Swat, tied to the militants groups. He allegedly drove a taxi, ferrying Arab members of Al Qaeda around Karachi.

Today, KSM, as he is called by U.S. officials, is a high-value detainee at Guantanamo Bay awaiting trial for the 9/11 attacks. Neither he nor his accomplices, however, have been charged in Pearl’s death.

Click here to watch a video overview of The Pearl Project.

Today, KSM, as he is called by U.S. officials, is a high-value detainee at Guantanamo Bay awaiting trial for the 9/11 attacks. Neither he nor his accomplices, however, have been charged in Pearl’s death.

While the U.S. government has not passed judgment on KSM’s involvement in the Pearl case, it appears that Osama Bin Laden has done so. Morris Davis, former chief prosecutor for the Guantanamo Bay military commissions, told the Pearl Project, “One of the high value detainees [held at Guantanamo Bay] told interrogators that Osama bin Laden was angry that KSM had slaughtered Pearl so publicly and brutally, arguing that the murder brought unnecessary attention on the network.”

The failure to indict KSM appears due, in part, to the fact that he first confessed to U.S. officials in the midst of tactics known as “waterboarding,” according to sources close to the interrogation. The harsh techniques, which human rights activists describe as torture, would likely derail any prosecution in the United States.
Part 1 — Finishing Danny’s Work

The failure to indict KSM appears due, in part, to the fact that he first confessed to U.S. officials in the midst of tactics known as “waterboarding,” according to sources close to the interrogation. The harsh techniques, which human rights activists describe as torture, would likely derail any prosecution in the United States.

To piece together the story, a faculty-student investigative reporting team at Georgetown University performed hundreds of interviews with past and present law enforcement officials, diplomats, and intelligence officers, as well as with relatives and lawyers of suspects, many for the first time — all of it spanning five countries. We relied as well on hundreds of documents ranging from Pakistani police and court records to FBI reports to Pearl’s e-mails and personal notes, including details about events, conversations, and meetings never previously reported. We read 2,400 pages of court records chronicling the trial of men involved in the kidnapping.

This effort to create the definitive public record of Daniel Pearl’s last days and the hunt for those behind his death was sponsored by Georgetown University and the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, a program of the nonprofit Center for Public Integrity in Washington, D.C. Our efforts were funded by grants from the Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation, based in Oklahoma City.

This is a story filled with bad guys. But there are some good guys. They are the Pakistani cops, former and current FBI agents, and former and current U.S. government officials who helped the Pearl Project, despite great risk to their careers and lives. Among them is Pakistani police officer Fayyaz Khan, who has continued to pursue those believed to be responsible in Pearl’s kidnapping and murder. In September 2002, he was seriously injured when a mail bomb exploded in his face in Karachi, and, in November 2010, he narrowly missed a suicide bomb attack that killed 17 people and injured more than 100 people, leveling the offices of the Crime Investigation Department, where he works. The Pakistani Taliban took credit, saying it was trying to avenge the extrajudicial detention of its members.

Pearl was held in a compound outside Karachi, where he was brutally murdered in 2002. Credit: Athar Hussain/Associated Press

This is a story filled with bad guys. But there are some good guys. They are the Pakistani cops, former and current FBI agents, and former and current U.S. government officials who helped the Pearl Project, despite great risk to their careers and lives. Among them is Pakistani police officer Fayyaz Khan, who has continued to pursue those believed to be responsible in Pearl’s kidnapping and murder. In September 2002, he was seriously injured when a mail bomb exploded in his face in Karachi, and, in November 2010, he narrowly missed a suicide bomb attack that killed 17 people and injured more than 100 people, leveling the offices of the Crime Investigation Department, where he works. The Pakistani Taliban took credit, saying it was trying to avenge the extrajudicial detention of its members.

Among the Pearl Project’s findings are that Pakistani and American authorities missed key opportunities to develop witnesses and forensic evidence that might earlier have led to KSM, his two alleged accomplices in the murder, and many others who allegedly had roles in the kidnapping. In all, the project identified 27 men who were involved in events surrounding Pearl’s kidnapping and murder. Fourteen of the men are free. While some of these men’s names have floated around with aliases, signified by the “@” sign in Pakistan police reports, the Pearl Project established their real identities, identifying home addresses and family members. In some cases, there are alternate spellings to their Arabic and Urdu names.

Among the Pearl Project’s findings are that Pakistani and American authorities missed key opportunities to develop witnesses and forensic evidence that might earlier have led to KSM, his two alleged accomplices in the murder, and many others who allegedly had roles in the kidnapping. In all, the project identified 27 men who were involved in events surrounding Pearl’s kidnapping and murder. Fourteen of the men are free. While some of these men’s names have floated around with aliases, signified by the “@” sign in Pakistan police reports, the Pearl Project established their real identities, identifying home addresses and family members. In some cases, there are alternate spellings to their Arabic and Urdu names.

Among the Pearl Project’s findings are that Pakistani and American authorities missed key opportunities to develop witnesses and forensic evidence that might earlier have led to KSM, his two alleged accomplices in the murder, and many others who allegedly had roles in the kidnapping. In all, the project identified 27 men who were involved in events surrounding Pearl’s kidnapping and murder. Fourteen of the men are free. While some of these men’s names have floated around with aliases, signified by the “@” sign in Pakistan police reports, the Pearl Project established their real identities, identifying home addresses and family members. In some cases, there are alternate spellings to their Arabic and Urdu names.

“Justice wasn’t served,” Pearl’s mother, Ruth Pearl, told the Pearl Project.

The handling of Fazal Karim, the young militant who led police to Pearl’s grave, is emblematic of the shortcomings that plagued the investigation. While U.S. and Pakistani officials vowed to spare no effort in tracking down Pearl’s killers, and some did make enormous efforts, the difficulties in investigating and prosecuting the case present a cautionary tale about the obstacles to realizing justice for such crimes. In pointing police to the remains, Karim had a horrific story to tell which stretched from Pearl’s terrifying days in custody to the final moment of his life, when a video camera malfunction prompted his captors to re-enact the killing. Pakistani investigators passed on word of this informant to Bennett, the State Department’s security officer, but, U.S. officials say, they refused to let him interview their prisoner.

Karim’s emergence, it turns out, was a problem. By that time, police already had a prime suspect in jail named Ahmad Omar Saeed Sheikh, the radical who indeed orchestrated the kidnapping but was out of the picture — in fact, was in another city — at the time Pearl was beheaded.

Karim’s account threw a wrench into the strategy Pakistani police and prosecutors had mapped out to convict Omar Sheikh and three co-defendants. Pakistani authorities, in a series of decisions which American officials accepted, didn’t bring charges against Karim and failed to follow up his leads to avoid drawing attention to his information and undermining the court case against Sheikh and his co-defendants.
Part 1 — Finishing Danny’s Work

Karim’s account threw a wrench into the strategy Pakistani police and prosecutors had mapped out to convict Omar Sheikh and three co-defendants. Pakistani authorities, in a series of decisions which American officials accepted, didn’t bring charges against Karim and failed to follow up his leads to avoid drawing attention to his information and undermining the court case against Sheikh and his co-defendants.

To make matters even more complicated, Sheikh’s defense attorney, Rai Bashir Ahmad, who is often known as Rai Bashir, implicated Pearl’s friend Asra Nomani, who later became a co-director of the Pearl Project, in the kidnapping because Pearl was staying with her at the time of the kidnapping. A Pakistani newspaper quoted Bashir as saying he suspected Nomani, born in India, of working for the Indian intelligence agency, the Research and Analysis Wing, or RAW.

By some accounts, the Pakistanis didn’t want to jeopardize an already problematic case against Sheikh at a time when they were under pressure to show Washington that they were being tough on terrorism. In fact, Sheikh seemed like something of a poster boy for Pakistan to show off its law enforcement efforts, since he was already under indictment in the United States for a 1994 kidnapping of an American in India.

Had investigators pursued earlier clues such as Karim’s, they might have discovered what the Pearl Project’s student-reporters can now put on the record: four men tried and convicted of Pearl’s murder in Pakistan were involved in the kidnapping but not in the killing. Those responsible for the murder have not yet faced justice.

Daniel Pearl’s passport, photographed at an exhibit at the Newseum. Credit: Queerbubbles

Had investigators pursued earlier clues such as Karim’s, they might have discovered what the Pearl Project’s student-reporters can now put on the record: four men tried and convicted of Pearl’s murder in Pakistan were involved in the kidnapping but not in the killing. Those responsible for the murder have not yet faced justice.

Not only was Khalid Sheikh Mohammed the alleged killer, but his two chief accomplices may have been his own nephews, according to U.S. and Pakistani officials familiar with the case: Ali Abdul Aziz Ali, now a Guantanamo Bay detainee alleged to have sent money to the 9/11 hijackers at the behest of uncle KSM, and Musaad Aruchi, an alleged Al Qaeda operative whose whereabouts have been unknown since he was arrested in Karachi in a joint Pakistani-CIA raid in 2004.

Not only was Khalid Sheikh Mohammed the alleged killer, but his two chief accomplices may have been his own nephews, according to U.S. and Pakistani officials familiar with the case: Ali Abdul Aziz Ali, now a Guantanamo Bay detainee alleged to have sent money to the 9/11 hijackers at the behest of uncle KSM, and Musaad Aruchi, an alleged Al Qaeda operative whose whereabouts have been unknown since he was arrested in Karachi in a joint Pakistani-CIA raid in 2004.

Why is all this news after nine years? While much has been written and broadcast about the Pearl case, the passage of time has made it possible to fill in some of the gaps, to get access to information and people that previously was not possible, and to ensure a full accounting on Pearl’s behalf.

And in addition to getting at the truth of what happened to one journalist, this investigation’s findings serve as a primer for how this region’s web of militancy activities has broad geo-political significance. The Pearl case demonstrates the dangerous consequences of an extremist interpretation of Islam to Pakistan and the world. Nearly all of the men believed to be involved in the Pearl kidnapping and murder were members of sectarian militant organizations that had cropped up in Pakistan in the 1980s and 1990s, influenced by Wahhabism, the dogmatic, fundamentalist brand of Islam prevalent in Saudi Arabia, and, similarly, Deobandism, an Indian-born school of thought that has taken root among militants and Islamists in Pakistan.

And in addition to getting at the truth of what happened to one journalist, this investigation’s findings serve as a primer for how this region’s web of militancy activities has broad geo-political significance. The Pearl case demonstrates the dangerous consequences of an extremist interpretation of Islam to Pakistan and the world. Nearly all of the men believed to be involved in the Pearl kidnapping and murder were members of sectarian militant organizations that had cropped up in Pakistan in the 1980s and 1990s, influenced by Wahhabism, the dogmatic, fundamentalist brand of Islam prevalent in Saudi Arabia, and, similarly, Deobandism, an Indian-born school of thought that has taken root among militants and Islamists in Pakistan.

In a 2002 diplomatic cable, Sheldon Rapoport, acting U.S. consul general in Karachi, made a reference to these groups as fundamentalist, calling them “jihadi/fundo organizations,” Understanding the ideological underpinnings of people waging war against the United States is critical to deterrence.

A full investigation of the plot also offers a window into militancy in Pakistan — particularly the nexus of homegrown extremists, the Afghan Taliban, and Al Qaeda — that has grown to become an ever-larger threat to the stability of the nuclear-armed nation. The murder was the first known operation in which Pakistani militants collaborated with Al Qaeda. In the time since Pearl’s death, the interaction has become more commonplace, and the situation has grown more volatile in Pakistan, threatening both stability in the region and the safety of Americans and others around the world. Many of the men involved in the Pearl case hailed from the Punjab province that sits in the country’s political, military, and cultural heartland, and they are a harbinger of a domestic and global threat that some Pakistani officials are just now reluctantly starting to acknowledge, “the Punjabi Taliban.”

INDEX
The Truth Left Behind
Author’s Note

Key Findings The Pearl Project spent more than three years investigating the roles of 27 men linked to the 2002 kidnapping and murder of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl.

Part 1 — Finishing Danny’s Work Pakistani and U.S. officials are led to the remains of Daniel Pearl four months after his kidnapping by a militant arrested for an unrelated hotel bombing.

Part 2 — Baiting the Trap After “shoe bomber” Richard Reid tries to blow up a jet in late 2001, Pearl investigates if Reid had ties to a radical Pakistani cleric, Sheik Mubarak Ali Shah Gilani, and tries to arrange a meeting with him.

Part 3 — Trapping the Journalist British-born Omar Sheikh, once jailed for allegedly kidnapping Western tourists, offers to introduce Pearl to the extremist Muslim leader Sheik Mubarak Ali Shah Gilani as part of a trap to kidnap the journalist.

Part 4 — Finding a Safe House Omar Sheikh recruits a team to kidnap Pearl, finds a Karachi safe house to keep Pearl in captivity, and hires messengers to tell the world of the kidnappers’ demands.

Part 5 — Kidnapping the Journalist Pearl is picked up on Jan. 23, 2002 for a promised introduction to a radical cleric, but is instead taken to a remote area where guards chain him to an old car engine in a small building.

Part 6 — Holding the Hostage Photos of Pearl bound in chains are included in the first e-mailed ransom note that suggests he was a bargaining chip for the release of Al Qaeda prisoners. But, the same day a Pakistan newspaper reports Pearl is Jewish, another note is sent warning that Pearl would be executed.

Part 7 — Killing the Journalist Al Qaeda operative Khalid Sheikh Mohammed arrives at the safehouse to behead Pearl. Mohammed later tells the FBI he was drawn in by a senior Al Qaeda leader who said the kidnappers didn’t know what to do with Pearl and that Al Qaeda should “take advantage of it.”

Part 8 — Losing the Race Against Time Police trace e-mailed ransom notes to a cyber cafe customer, who says he was hired by Omar Sheikh, the kidnapping mastermind. Sheikh’s family members persuade him to surrender to local authorities.

Part 9 — Catching the Mastermind Omar Sheikh tells the FBI that he did not plan to kill Pearl, but captors had to hold him once newspapers revealed he was Jewish. On Feb. 21, 2002, the FBI is tipped about a man offering to sell a videotape that showed Pearl’s murder and FBI agents pose as reporters to obtain it.

Part 10 — Rushing to Judgment After a three-month trial of Omar Sheikh and three others that is closed to the public, all four are convicted on July 15, 2002, of murdering Pearl.

Part 11 — Letting Sleeping Dogs Lie An FBI agent analyzes the Pearl murder video and matches a distinctive bulging vein in the murderer’s hand to a CIA photo of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed’s hand.

Epilogue — Waking Sleeping Dogs Of the 27 men involved in Pearl’s kidnapping and murder, 4 were convicted, 5 are dead, 4 are detained or missing, and 14 are free. Khalid Sheikh Mohammed is held in Guantanamo Bay for his role in the 9/11 terror attacks.

 

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