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DANIEL PEARL'S MURDER: Questions without answers

Paper No. 445                          17.04.2002

by B.Raman

(This is to be read in continuation of the writer's earlier articles titled "The Daniel Pearl's Case: Questions & Answers", "The Man Who Knows & Talks Too Much" and "Punishment Terrorism: Questions & Answers--Parts I to VI". All of them are available at www.saag.org )

The trial of Omar Sheikh and his associates in the Daniel Pearl kidnapping and murder case has begun in camera inside a Karachi jail.  The media has been barred entry. However, Pakistani newspapers have reported that a representative of the US Consulate in Karachi has been allowed to be present during the trial.

The trial is being held under closely controlled conditions by the military regime in order to prevent Omar Sheikh from making any statements regarding his involvement in the attacks on the Jammu & Kashmir Legislative Assembly at Srinagar on October 1, 2001, on the Indian Parliament in New Delhi on December 13, 2001, and on the security personnel guarding the American Centre at Kolkata (Calcutta) on January 22, 2002, and about his links with Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and Osama bin Laden's Al Qaeda.

As a result, no authoritative account of what exactly he and the other accused told the ISI and the Police during their interrogation is available.  However, the Police authorities of Karachi, angered over their repeated humiliation by the military regime, continue to embarrass the regime by leaking out copious details of what, according to them, he has been telling the Police ever since he was handed over to them on February 12, 2002, after having been kept in the ISI's custody for a week from February 5, 2002, when he voluntarily surrendered to the Home Secretary of Punjab,Brig. (retd) Ejaz Shah,  who had served in the ISI and used to control the activities of the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen (HUM) and the Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami (HUJI).

While the military regime, including Gen.Pervez Musharraf himself, continue to blame the Jaish-e-Mohammad (JEM) led by Maulana Masood Azhar, which  was banned by Musharraf on January 15, 2002, for the kidnapping and murder, the Police authorities insist that Pearl was kidnapped and killed not by the JEM, but by the HUJI and the HUM, with the former playing a more active role.

Musharraf has so far avoided banning the HUM and the HUJI despite the fact that the HUM, which, in its previous incarnation as the Harkat-ul-Ansar (HUA), was designated by the US State Department as a foreign terrorist organisation in October,1997, was a signatory of bin Laden's first fatwa of 1998 against the US and was a founding member of bin Laden's International Islamic Front For Jihad Against the USA and Israel.  Both the HUM and the HUJI have been fighting against the coalition troops in Afghanistan and have sustained large casualties.  Both these organisations, and particularly the HUJI, have a large number of supporters in the lower and middle levels of the Pakistan Army.

The Police suspicion on the HUJI and the HUM is based on the modus operandi (MO) followed by the kidnappers for killing Pearl---cutting open the throat and then beheading---which, according to them, is not used by any other terrorist organisation in the Jammu & Kashmir State of India, Pakistan or Afghanistan and on the known HUJI/HUM background of some of the dramatis personae.

Among the dramatis personae named by the Police as belonging to the HUJI/HUM are Omar Sheikh himself, Mansur Hasnain alias Imtiaz Siddiqui alias Hyder, Amjad Hussian Farooqui, Muhammad Hashim Qadir alias  Arif and Mohammad Bashir.  The Police quote Omar Sheikh as saying that Mansur Hasnain, a Pakistani Punjabi from the Toba Tek Singh District of Punjab, was  the leader of the HUM group, which had hijacked an Indian Airlines plane to Kandahar in December,1999, to secure the release of Maulana Masood Azhar and Omar Sheikh.

According to the Police, Amjad Hussain Farooqui, also a Pakistani Punjabi,  belongs to the HUJI.  The "News" of February 16, 2002, quoted a Pakistani Police officer involved in the investigation as saying as follows on Farooqui: ": " He is a jehadi who has been mainly active in Afghanistan, but he lives in Karachi.  The HUJI is the main Pakistani backer of the Taliban. About 1,800 of its 5,000 members were killed in northern Afghanistan during the US-led air strikes and the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance offensive.  The HUJI members are believed to be part of a network of cells involved in the kidnapping.  The operation was planned very intelligently, using cells unknown to each other."

It is said that Muhammad Hashim Qadir alias Arif, a resident of Bhawalpur, whom Pearl met first, belonged to the HUM.  Pearl was keen to meet Mubarik Ali Shah Gilani, leader of the Jamaat-ul-Fuqra (JUF), a terrorist organisation based in the USA and the Caribbean with a large following among Afro-Americans.  Two of Gilani's four wives are stated to be Afro-Americans.  Pearl wanted to talk to him about Richard Reid, the so-called shoe bomber.

Mohammad Bashir is described as the man with whom Pearl was in touch through  E-Mail from Mumbai (Bombay).  Interestingly, Bashir reportedly used the  E-Mail identity "Nobadmashi", meaning "No Hanky-panky".  Some Police officers suspect that it was probably Omar Sheikh himself , who was in E-Mail contact with Pearl under the assumed name Mohammad Bashir.

Omar Sheikh  has told the Police that the kidnappers operated in three groups.  Omar himself and Arif won the confidence of Pearl.  Mansur Hasnain and Amjad Hussain Farooqui kidnapped Pearl and kept him in custody and Omar, with the help of Adil Mohammad Sheikh, a member of the staff of the Special Branch of the Sindh Police, and his cousins Suleman Saquib and Fahad Nasim arranged for taking the photograph of Pearl in custody, having it scanned and sending the E-Mail with his photograph to the media and others making their demands.  According to the Police, Saquib and Nasim belonged to the JEM, thereby indicating the possibility that the kidnapping and murder might have been jointly planned and carried out by the HUJI, the HUM and the JEM.

However, in his statement, Nasir, the driver of the taxi by which Pearl went to the Metropole Hotel in Karachi on January 23, 2002, has reportedly told the Police that he stopped his taxi near the hotel where a car with four persons was waiting.  He has identified Omar as the person who got out of the car and took Pearl into the car.  Pearl willingly sat in the car, thereby indicating that he did not suspect any trap.

Two prominent personalities from the USA, not belonging to the world of terrorists, who figure in the statement made to the Police by Khalid Khwaja, a retired Air Force officer who had worked in the ISI till 1988 and who was reportedly in touch with Osama bin Laden, are Mansur Ijaz, an American lobbyist of Pakistani origin, and James Woolsey, former Director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and a close personal friend of Ijaz.

Khwaja, who is related to Gilani, is reported to have told the Police that Ijaz and Woolsey had been in touch with him since September 11, 2001, and had sought his assistance for persuading Mulla Mohammad Omar, the Amir of the Taliban, to hand over bin Laden to the USA for trial.  In the beginning of January,2002, Pearl had rung him up and sought his assistance for meeting Gilani.  Pearl told him that Ijaz had recommended that he (Pearl) should contact him (Khwaja).  Khwaja claimed that he had turned down Pearl's request.

According to the statement of Khwaja, he came to know after the murder of Pearl that the "Newsweek" was going to carry negative references to him (Khwaja) in its report on the murder.  He immediately rang up Ijaz and conveyed his concern to him.  Khwaja alleged that Ijaz rang him up later and told him that he had persuaded the "Newsweek" to tone down, if not delete the references to him.

Did Ijaz tell Khwaja that Pearl was Jewish and that his parents were Israeli nationals? Did the interest taken by Ijaz in helping Pearl meet well-informed people in the world of terrorism in Pakistan and his perceived proximity to Woolsey create fears in the minds of the terrorists and the ISI that Pearl was being used by the CIA to smoke out bin Laden and collect information about bin Laden's continuing contacts with the Pakistani military-intelligence establishment?

Important questions, but they remain without answers.  The only thing one knows for certain is that the ISI tried hard to prevent the media from publishing the leakages from the Police about Ijaz  and most papers complied with the ISI advisory.

In conclusion, some quotable quotes from the "News", a prestigious Pakistani daily, whose Editor was got sacked by Musharraf for publishing a report about the confessions of Omar Sheikh about his involvement in the terrorist incidents in India and who has since fled to the US fearing a threat to his life from the ISI:
 

* "A ranking police official said that while Omar's interrogation and supporting evidence were breaking the Police hopes of resolving the mysterious kidnapping saga, uninterrupted encouraging reports were being sent from Islamabad to President Pervez Musharraf in Washington."--The 'News" of February 15, 2002.

* "Omar told his investigators that on February 5 he turned himself over to Brig (retd) Ejaz Shah, the Home Secretary of Punjab, who took him to some non-Police officials, who decided to hold back the announcement of his surrender till President Musharraf reached Washington on February 12. While Omar didn't hesitate for a minute in providing the Police an explicit account of his involvement in Pearl's abduction, Police investigators were surprised that he was not prepared to give any details about his week-long negotiations in Punjab with non-Police officials.  Omar said: "I know people in the Government and they know me and my work, but it was not a factor in Pearl's kidnapping or my decision to turn myself over to the authorities."--The "News" of February 15, 2002.

* "Soon after surrendering before the Police in Rawalpindi, Pir Gilani had boasted about his contribution to several issues relating to national security and provided more than a dozen names of serving and retired officials for verification of his contribution to state security.  Surprisingly, all main suspects in the Pearl kidnapping case are making similar claims."---The "News" of February 14, 2002.

* "Despite mounting evidence of Pearl's murder that has emerged soon after Sheikh Omar's decision to turn himself over to the authorities, top officials in Islamabad kept President Musharraf, who was in the USA, in the dark about the depressing developments in the case.  Briefing the President on February 13, the officials said that they were sure that Pearl was alive and that they were about to arrest all the perpetrators of the kidnapping."---The "News" of February 26, 2002. 

(The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai. E-Mail: corde@vsnl.com )

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