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Somewhere Else 

The bungling of the Daniel Pearl investigation

Wednesday, Feb 27 2002
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From the very start, the investigation into Daniel Pearl‘s kidnapping was mishandled.

Investigators should have sought, on the first day Pearl came up missing, the long list of intelligence officers involved with tensions in Afghanistan and Kashmir during the past five or six years. In turn, these officers could have turned over the records of the hardcore cadre of Jihadi outfits with whom they had worked on quasi-official government business.

After all, those who abducted and murdered the Wall Street Journal reporter are all being identified as former ”boys“ of the intelligence services. It wasn’t until the final stages of the investigation that the FBI asked for the list of intelligence officers familiar with Afghanistani issues. By then, it was too late.

Investigators kept running behind shadows while the kidnappers remained out of reach. After making several arrests, and announcing that the case was near being solved, Pakistani officials had to backtrack. Finally, police said the real culprit who had Pearl in custody was Amjad Hussain, who in December 1999 hijacked an Indian Airlines plane and was affiliated with the banned terrorist outfit Harkat-ul-Mujahdeen, suspected by U.S. authorities of having ties to al Qaeda. Now Pakistani police are saying that they believe Hussain has fled the country.

”What will be done about the gross failure of the security agencies to resolve the case in a manner which could have saved Daniel Pearl‘s life and the massive humiliation Pakistan is going to face in the world now?“ one newspaper editorial questioned. ”What went wrong despite so many potent leads and so many crucial arrests in the case? Was Pearl the victim of an internal-security failure?“

From the start, police adopted a novel method of arresting relatives of suspects to force them to surrender. It worked early on, but not in the case of Hussain, who apparently cared little that his family was being detained.

According to police, the man Pearl went to interview the day he disappeared was Sheik Mubarak Ali shah Gillani. Amjad Hussain posed as a confidant of Sheik Gillani, and Pearl was last seen on January 23 in a Karachi hotel with Hussain.

Interestingly, Karachi, in the far south of Pakistan, is the last place you’d expect to find Sheik Gillani, who lives a princely life in Lahore, a city in central Pakistan. So, I wonder whom Pearl really wanted to meet in Karachi? Was he expecting someone else? Maybe some important al Qaeda leader? Was he really working on the so-called shoe-bomber story, as much of the world believes, or on connections between al Qaeda and Pakistan‘s Jihadi outfits? Was he a target because he had come across material that might embarrass Pakistan’s powerful intelligence agency?

”This is all dirty business of one or another intelligence agency,“ one of my colleagues said soon after Pearl vanished. ”All the names we are hearing in connection with this case are just tools in a grand plan.“

In press circles it is argued that Pearl knew something that an intelligence agency did not want to get out, and was abducted with the help of some of the Jihadi boys and executed.

Reporter Kamran Khan disclosed in a well-researched story in Pakistan‘s largest-circulating English-language daily, The News, on February 13, that in each of his interactions in Karachi while planning for the kidnapping, Sheik Omar Saeed, one of the suspects who has been arrested, was accompanied by at least three others. The same story also suggested that the real organizers of the abduction were hidden ”somewhere“ else.

In Pakistan, to name and point a finger at one or another intelligence agency in connection with any wrongdoing is not easy; therefore ”somewhere“ is a euphemism for the powerful intelligence agencies of Pakistan.

”The ones arrested so far -- among them Sheik Omar Saeed -- may well be low-level operatives. On whose behalf they worked is still by and large a mystery,“ wrote Pakistan’s respected newspaper Dawn in its editorial on February 23. ”What their motives were and why they chose to kill are questions to which our intelligence agencies have not been able to find a satisfactory answer.“

It is not clear why the arrest of the main suspect, Ahmad Omar Saeed Sheikh, was not revealed to all the involved police agencies, including the FBI, until February 12, seven days later. Some observers believe authorities wanted to coincide the announcement with President Pervez Musharraf‘s visit to Washington, D.C. While intelligence officials were being told by Sheikh that Pearl was dead, Musharraf, in Washington, was saying he thought Pearl would be rescued soon. ”If Musharraf didn’t know about Danny, then clearly he is not in control of his country,“ one commentator observed concerning the Pakistani leader‘s confusion. ”That is a serious problem for the U.S.“

”After a monthlong investigation, if all you get is a videotape confirming Mr. Pearl’s death,“ one analyst said, ”then that leaves a huge impression that those who challenge the Musharraf‘s government are far more resilient than it was initially thought.“

At the time of this writing, we have news that a few hours ago some terrorists entered a mosque in Rawalpindi and sprayed gunfire into the people offering their evening prayer. Initial reports suggest that at least 10 are dead.

So, what will the future hold for us? Perhaps the death of Daniel Pearl is the beginning of a new drama, whose script is being written by those who see no limit in pursuing their dark cause with the fanatic zeal that Pearl tried to unveil.

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