News / Asia

Report Faults Pakistan in Daniel Pearl Murder Investigation

In this March 29, 2002 file photo, Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh, the alleged mastermind behind Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl's abduction, leaves the provincial high court in Karachi, Pakistan, under tight security
In this March 29, 2002 file photo, Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh, the alleged mastermind behind Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl's abduction, leaves the provincial high court in Karachi, Pakistan, under tight security

A new report says only a small number of militants involved in the kidnapping and beheading of The Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl in Pakistan have been brought to justice and those imprisoned for the murder were not present when he was killed.  

The report, called "The Truth Left Behind: Inside the Kidnapping and Murder of Daniel Pearl", is the result of an investigation carried out by a team of American journalists and students spanning the last several years.

Asra Nomani, a former colleague and close friend of Pearl’s at The Wall Street Journal, launched the investigation with the help of dozens of students from Georgetown University.

"The Truth Left Behind" chronicles the issues of extremism, militancy and terrorism in Pakistan. 

"What we learn is that there were actually 27 people involved in the kidnapping and murder of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, but only four have actually been convicted in Pakistani courts.  Of the 27, 14 remain free," said Nomani.

The release of the report on Thursday raises troubling questions about Pakistan’s criminal justice system.

It says the four men convicted of killing Pearl did participate in the kidnapping of the American journalist, but it says prosecutors in their haste to close the case knowingly used false testimony during the trial.

The investigation also says forensic evidence boosts the confession of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the professed mastermind of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States, as personally beheading Pearl.

The co-author of the report, Barbara Feinman Todd, is the Journalism Director at Georgetown University.

"One very important thing is that justice has not been served really.  You know only four men have been convicted of this crime and we believe that none of the four men was actually there at the time of the murder.  So while they were involved and are culpable, they were not actually there and they did not commit the murder so we want justice to be served.  We want people to know the truth," she said.

Pearl was abducted in the southern port city of Karachi in January 2002 while researching a story on Islamist militancy.  In February of that year a video documenting Pearl’s murder was delivered to U.S. officials in Karachi.  His remains were found in a shallow grave several months later.

Asra Nomani says she hopes the Pakistani and U.S. governments will take another look at Pearl’s case and that everyone will draw lessons from the information contained in the report.

"So that we can understand what the problem is, in reality, on the streets of Pakistan," she said. "We can understand the limitations of rule of law, we can understand the reach of militancy and we can understand the threat of terrorism.  It is really important to stop the culture of denial that has really defined a lot of the issues in the region and talk honestly about the problems.  I think at a minimum that is what we can do for a journalist who lost his life in the pursuit of truth."

Nomani says the Pearl Project was necessary to send a clear message to those who would intentionally harm reporters.

"You know there was a time when journalists were not as targeted as they are today, but the truth is that we as a community have to stand up and not allow people to have impunity when it comes to their targeting of journalists.  We could not save Danny, but we had to fight to get the truth that was left behind.  I hope that we send a really clear message to anybody that targets journalists that we will not rest until the complete truth is found out about who is targeting them and who killed them," said Nomani.

Nomani says the investigation grew from a murder case to a study of militancy, Islamic extremism and terrorism in Pakistan.

She says the case of Daniel Pearl was a harbinger of the issues U.S. national security officials are still struggling with today.

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