The Journalist and The Terrorist
(Daniel Pearl and Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh)
by Robert Sam Anson
The reporter who comes to Karachi, Pakistan is given certain cautions.
Do not take a taxi from the airport; arrange for the hotel to send a car and
confirm the driver's identity before getting in.
Do not stay in a room that faces the street.
Do not interview sources over the phone.
Do not discuss subjects such as Islam or the Pakistani nuclear program in the presence of hotel staff.
Do not leave notes or tape recordings in your room.
Do not discard work papers in the waste basket; flush them down the toilet.
Do not use public transportation or accept rides from strangers.
Do not go into markets, movie theaters, parks, or crowds.
Do not go anywhere without telling a trustworthy someone the destination and expected time of return.
And, above all, do not go alone. Ever.
The Marriott in Karachi satisfies lodging guidelines. Metal detectors flank the entrances, guards with sawed-off shotguns patrol the premises, and the shopping arcade leads directly to the U.S. Consulate which seemed a plus until a car bomb killed 12 people there on June 14. My room, per instruction, is on the Marriott's backside, and offers a fine view of the nearby Sheraton, where a bus containing 11 French nationals was blown up by a suicide bomber in May.
It is also where, according to a U.S. official, F.B.I. agents recovered a videotape showing an American journalist having his head cut off. His name was Daniel Pearl, he was 38 years old, a father-to-be, and South Asia bureau chief for The Wall Street Journal. He got the same security briefing I did.
By now, the horror that befell Danny Pearl is deeply engraved. A handsome young man, loved by everyone "Sweetest guy in the world," friends call him goes to a rendezvous he believes will lead him to a scoop. Instead, terrorists are waiting to snatch him from the street. They issue photographs of Danny in chains, a pistol held to his head, and charge that he is a spy and will be executed unless demands are met. Danny's French wife, Mariane six months pregnant with their first child appears on television to appeal for his life. But there is only silence.
Daniel Pearl Karachi
Then, just when things are at their darkest, the terrorist ringleader, a former British public-school boy named Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh, is arrested and says Danny is alive. Hopes soar as Pakistan's president, General Pervez Musharraf, predicts his imminent freedom. But all that is released is the videotape. "My father's Jewish, my mother's Jewish, I'm Jewish," it records Daniel Pearl saying. Then he is butchered.
We've been told that Danny was not only a great reporter, with an eye for the offbeat and the absurd, but a cautious one not the sort who'd look for trouble. We've heard how he grew up in suburban Los Angeles, went to Stanford, and landed at the Journal, which sent him to Atlanta, Washington, London, Paris, and, finally, Bombay, a posting he accepted after confirming that there were venues where Mariane could exercise her passion for salsa dancing. We've had described how he was skeptical in the best sense of the word, questioning things taken for granted, unearthing stories others overlooked.
He was working that way on his last story, an investigation of the connections between the "shoe-bomber," Richard C. Reid, and a virulently anti-Semitic Muslim militant, Mubarak Ali Shah Gilani, tracing an unbeaten path that led to who knows where.
The who, what, when, and where have been laid out. Everything except the why. Why did Danny Pearl die? Because he was a Jew? A journalist? An American? Or was he simply in the wrong place at the wrong time?
The why is always the hardest question for a journalist to answer, and it's what brought Danny Pearl to Pakistan. "I want to know why they hate us so much," he said. Why he died trying to find out brought me.
My qualification is having been in a similar circumstance a long time ago August 1970, in Cambodia, to be precise. I was 25 years old then, covering the war for Time and feeling invulnerable, a frequent, sometimes fatal journalist's malady. The short of it is that I drove alone to somewhere I shouldn't have, and wound up in a hole with the barrel of an AK-47 pressed to my forehead. I was presumed dead for several weeks, and the conviction of my fellows back in Phnom Penh just as it is among many today about Danny Pearl was that I'd asked for it. The difference is, I came back.
There is a lot else about Danny and the people who picked him up that is dissimilar, but every reporter has got to start somewhere. And the place Danny Pearl began, shortly after 9/11, was with a phone call to a number in Manhattan.
On the line that morning was Mansoor Ijaz, founder and chairman of Crescent Investment Management, L.L.C., and a U.S.born-and-bred Pakistani-American with unusual friends and interests. His business partner is Lieutenant General James Abrahamson, former director of Ronald Reagan's Star Wars program; the vice-chairman of his board, R. James Woolsey, director of the Central Intelligence Agency under Bill Clinton. For a time Ijaz was also chums with Clinton and his national-security adviser Samuel Berger. This came in handy in April 1997, when, as a private citizen, Ijaz negotiated Sudan's counterterrorism offer to the U.S., and again in August 2000, when Ijaz had Pakistan and India on the seeming verge of cooling the Kashmir cauldron. The deal broke down, as did the relationship with the White House. But soon enough Ijaz was back, as tight with George W. and Condie as he'd been with Bill and Sandy.
Danny called on a tip from Indian intelligence, which said Ijaz was wired with leading jihadis. Figuring that a prominent Pakistani-American who came recommended by Indian spooks to get to Muslim militants must have been a gold mine for Danny, I did the same nine months later.
Ijaz confirmed my figuring.
"He said he wanted to try to understand the psychology behind the jihadi groups," Ijaz recalls. "He wanted to try to get into the mind of the people running the show. He wanted me to introduce him to people who could open doors for him."
Danny's religion also came up.
I said to him at one point, 'I presume from your name that you are Jewish. Is that correct?' He said, 'Yes.' I said, 'Well, you have to understand that this is going to be a huge stumbling block for you. Because [the militants] are going to pick up on that very quickly, and The Wall Street Journal is not viewed as the voice of the Muslim people."'
Danny, who'd reported from Iran and Sudan without difficulty, did not seem concerned, and Ijaz made introductions to three sources: Shaheen Sehbai, editor of The News, Pakistan's largest English language daily; a jihadi activist he declines to name; and most fatefully Khalid Khawaja, a Muslim militant and a onetime agent with Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence agency (ISI) who counts among his very best friends Osama bin Laden.
In late September 2001, Danny flew to Karachi, a sprawling port city of 15 million that is Pakistan's commercial center. Mariane, who is a freelance journalist and frequently accompanied him on interviews, went, too.
"We didn't choose a profession," said Mariane, a strong-minded Buddhist who has been likened to Yoko Ono. "We didn't choose it for ego purposes but we chose it because we wanted to change the world."
They checked into the Pearl Continental, where reservations had been made for them by Ikram Sehgal, proprietor of Pakistan's largest security company. Danny had called him before departing from Bombay to see if it was safe to bring Mariane, who they'd recently learned was pregnant. Sehgal delivered a sobering lecture about security precautions, and offered to provide them with an armed guard free of charge. Danny accepted.
I empathized. Compared with Karachi, Cambodia seemed a walk in the park.
For a time in the early 1990s, violence in Karachi was so endemic that the army took over for the cops. When the troops pulled out, killings started averaging eight per dayand those were merely the ones involving political and criminal gangs. No one bothered to count the shootings, bombings, garrotings, and throat slittings between ethnic and religious groups, much less the toll racked up in quotidian armed robberies, home invasions, and just-for-the-hell-of-it sniper slayings.
Americans were special targets. In March 1995 two U.S. consular personnel on their way to work were mowed down by automatic weapons in an ambush at a busy intersection. Two years later, in November 1997, four employees of an American oil company were shot dead in a carbon-copy replay a few blocks from the Sheraton.
Karachi was somewhat quieter when the Pearls arrived at least, a local magazine was no longer publishing a foldout, color-coded guide to where one was likeliest to be bumped off. Americans hadn't been murdered in a while (Shia Muslim physicians were the victims du jour), but the U.S. Consulate was taking no chances. Its staff members were ferried around in armor-plated Chevy Suburbans driven by U.S. Marines.
Journalists acquainting themselves with Pakistan usually come to Karachi last or don't come, period. I'd resolved to be among the latter category, after Benazir Bhutto advised that Karachi was "so dangerous." I changed my mind after several weeks testing calmer Pakistani waters and convincing myself that former prime ministers don't know anything typical journalist thinking, when a story's good. Danny, however, came here first. He was after Muslim militants, and Karachi is their Rome. Besides, an old friend from the Journal was soon to arrive. Her name was Asra Nomani.
Asra, who'd been at the Journal since 1988, was a Dow Jones original. For starters, she was an Indian-born Muslim from Morgantown, West Virginia, where her father helped found the first mosque. And corporate America, Asra wasn't: in January 2000 she took a leave to write a book about Tantra.
She'd been conducting her research from India. Shortly after 9/11, however, Salon.com appointed her its Central Asia correspondent and she later took a house in Karachi, a fact that almost certainly did not go unnoticed by Pakistan's ISI, which keeps tabs on foreign journalists, particularly those from India, who are presumed, ipso facto spies.
Initially, the Pearls' time in Karachi was unremarkable. They lunched with News editor Shaheen Sehbai, who found Danny "very keen to do work" but with "no clue how to go about it." and called on Ikram Sehgal, who arranged several appointments to get Danny grounded. "I liked him," says Sehgal. "He was very inquisitive and intense, you know."
It showed. Hardly had Danny cleared customs than he was quoting Sehgal in a Journal assessment of Musharraf's future (bleak, Sehgal judged). Within weeks, Danny had dispensed with his gun-toting chaperon "this shadow," he said and was in the capital, Islamabad, 700 miles to the north, for a several-hour session with Khalid Khawaja.
Khawaja was always good for a provocative quote, which made him a journalist favorite. "America is a very vulnerable country," he'd told CBS in July 2001. "Your White House is the most vulnerable target. It's very simple to just get it." After the U.S. began bombing Afghanistan on October 7, 2001, Asra got a zinger, too: "No American is safe now.... This is a lifelong war."
Some dismissed Khawaja as a PR man. But when it came to Muslim militancy, he was the real deal, having acquired his credentials during the war against the Soviets in Afghanistan, where, as an air force squadron leader, Khawaja was serving with the ISI, which was distributing C.I.A.purchased munitions to mujahideen. The more radically Islamist the fighter, the more weapons he got, including Osama bin Laden, who formed an instant bond with Khawaja. It deepened when Khawaja was forced out of the ISI in 1988 after criticizing military strongman Zia ul-Haq for not doing enough to Islamize Pakistan equivalent to questioning the piety of the Pope.
But despite his talk of bin Laden's being "a man like an angel," Khawaja was sufficiently broad-minded in his allegiances that he got the Taliban to agree to receive Ijaz and ex-C.I.A. director Woolsey.
Khawaja, in short, was a source to kill for, and Danny charmed him. Describing the reporter to Ijaz as "competent, straightforward," and not given to asking "inappropriate questions," Khawaja agreed to steer Danny to leading jihadis and to be a sounding board during his time in country.
Danny made another valuable acquaintance in Hamid Mir, editor of Islamabad's Urdu-language Daily Ausaf and selfproclaimed "official biographer" of Osama bin Laden. In their last chat, in early November, bin Laden had boasted of possessing chemical and nuclear weapons. But, according to Mir, the real reason for his summons was remarks he'd made on a U.S. TV show, saying that bin Laden couldn't back his beliefs with Islamic teachings. "I watched you on Larry King, " Osama said. "I want to tell you my position."
When I call on Mir he extracts Danny's business card from his wallet with a flourish.
"This is his memory," he says. "I was aware he's a Jew and that he works for The Wall Street Journal ... but I can say that he was a very good friend of mine."
He fondles the card, which is worn from showings. "Some people accused him that he was a spy, because the kind of assignment he was doing and his way of meeting with people and going after the story.... I came on CNN and I said, 'No, he was a journalist ... like me. We journalists take these kinds of risks."'
Mir, a Taliban enthusiast, was wary of Danny until they attended an anti-American street demonstration in November.
Several hundred were on hand, chanting denunciations of the U.S. and fealty to bin Laden, Danny in the midst of them.
"People were burning the flag of the United States of America ... and I was real careful that I should not become a victim of that fire," says Mir. "But he was standing right under the flag. I said, 'Danny, you should be careful!' He said, 'I want to see in their eyes why they hate us.' I said, 'At least there is one American journalist who wants to find out the reasons."'
For all Danny's great contacts, his stories weren't leaping off the Journal's front page. While he was writing about trading in Afghan currency, other correspondents were packing up to cover the war next door. But by late November, seven journalists had been killed there. "It's too dangerous," Danny said at a meal with other reporters before Thanksgiving. "I just got married, my wife is pregnant, I'm just not going to do it."
Quietly, though, Danny was onto something much more compelling than the daily bombing reports: he'd found links between the ISI and a "humanitarian" organization accused of leaking nuclear secrets to bin Laden.
The group Ummah Tameer-e-Nau (U.T.N.) was headed by Dr. Bashiruddin Mahmood, former chief of Pakistan's nuclear-power program and a key player in the development of its atomic bomb. Mahmood who'd been forced out of his job in 1998 after U.S. intelligence learned of his affection for Muslim extremists acknowledged making trips to Afghanistan as well as meeting Taliban supreme leader Mullah Mohammad Omar. But he claimed that all they'd discussed was the building of a flour mill in Afghanistan. As for bin Laden, Mahmood said he knew him only as someone who "was helping in different places, renovating schools, opening orphan houses, and [helping with] rehabilitation of widows."
That's not how the C.I.A. saw it. According to the agency, Mahmood and another nuclear scientist, Chaudry Abdul Majid, met with bin Laden in Kabul a few weeks before 9/11 and not to talk about whole-wheat bread. U.S. pressure got the scientists detained in late October, and they admitted having provided bin Laden with detailed information about weapons of mass destruction. But, for what was termed "the best interests of the nation," they were released in mid-December.
All this had been reported. What no one had tumbled to, except for Danny and Journal correspondent Steve LeVine, were U.T.N.'s connections to top levels of Pakistan's ISI and its military. General Hamid Gul a former ISI director with pronounced anti-American, radically Islamist views identified himself as U.T.N.'s "honorary patron" and said that he had seen Mahmood during his trip to brief bin Laden. Danny and LeVine also discovered that U.T.N. listed as a director an active-duty brigadier general, and ran down a former ISI colonel who claimed that the agency was not only aware of Mahmood's meeting with bin Laden months before his detention but had encouraged his Afghan trips.
"It could be a big scoop like your scoop," Danny told Mir. But the Journal played the story on page 8 on Christmas Eve and it passed without impact.
A few days later Danny was back in the paper with another exclusive, datelined Bahawalpur, headquarters of Jaish-e-Mohammed (one of the most violent jihadi groups, as well as one of the best connected to the ISI). Jaish had been banned by Musharraf, its bank accounts frozen, and its founder, Maulana Masood Azhar, placed under house arrest. However, Danny later reported that the Jaish office in Bahawalpur was still up and running, as was the Jaish account at the local bank.
If Danny hadn't been on the ISI's radarscope before, he was now. But Danny wasn't letting up; he now had his sights set on the "shoe-bomber," Richard C. Reid.
Interest in the British ex-con turned Muslim radical had tailed off since December 22, when he had tried to blow up an American Airlines Paris-to-Miami flight by touching a match to an explosive in his tennis sneakers. But there remained some dangling ends, none more intriguing than who was giving Reid orders.
A story in the January 6 edition of The Boston Globe got Danny on the case. It reported that U.S. officials believed Reid to be a follower of Sheikh Mubarak Ali Shah Gilani, a leader of an obscure Muslim militant group named Jamaat ul-Fuqra ("The Impoverished"). Described by the State Department's 1995 report on terrorism as dedicated "to purifying Islam through violence," ul-Fuqra recruited devotees from as far away as the Netherlands and had sent jihadis into battle in Kashmir, Chechnya, Bosnia, and Israel. Since the early 1980s, ul-Fuqra had also operated in the U.S., where, under the name Muslims of America, its largely black membership lived on rural communes in 19 states, where they were linked to a variety of activities, including according to authorities money-laundering, arson, murder, and the 1993 attack on the World Trade Center. Gilani who was said to have had four wives, two of them African-American was, for a time, based himself in the States, but now he was mostly to be found in a walled compound in Lahore, Pakistan, where a Pakistani official said that one of his visitors was Richard C. Reid.
The Globe quoted a Gilani "spokesman" and "friend" as denying any relationship between the sheikh and Reid, and warning that further such accusations were not advisable. "If you push him ... he has no option but to declare jihad on America," said Khalid Khawaja. "It will blow like a volcano."
Danny had stayed in regular touch with friend Khawaja and, after seeing the Globe piece, asked if he could put him together with Gilani. Out of the question, Khawaja said: Gilani hadn't granted an interview in nearly a decade, and he certainly wasn't going to give one now to an American reporter. "Don't try," he warned. "You will not be able to do it."
Undeterred, Danny asked his "fixer," an Islamabad reporter named Asif Faruqi, for a way in.
Faruqi asked around, and a journalist friend told him about a man named "Arif," who knew another man named "Chaudry Bashir," who could lead them to Gilani. Turned out, Faruqi's friend was mistaken. "Arif"'s real name was Hashim Qadeer, and he was a jihadi wanted by the police. As for "Chaudry Bashir," his real name was Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh.
Like every reporter in Pakistan, I wanted to meet the fabled Sheikh, who'd been described as well educated, charming, arrogant, and a sociopath. But Sheikh wasn't granting interviews just then; he was in solitary confinement in the Karachi Central Jail, a colonial institution that would do well in a remake of Midnight Express. I had to settle for learning about Sheikh, and once I had, it was no mystery why Danny had trusted him. I would have in a heartbeat.
He was born December 23, 1973, in Wanstead, an East London suburb. His parents had immigrated to the U.K. from a village outside Lahore five years before, and Sheikh was the eldest of their three children. His sister would study medicine at Oxford, his brother law at Cambridge. Sheikh's father, Saeed Ahmed Sheikh, was a successful businessman who generated enough income to send Sheikh to the $12,000-a-year Forest School, where one of his classmates was Nasser Hussain currently captain of the British cricket team.
In 1987 Saeed Ahmed Sheikh moved the family to Pakistan, and Sheikh, then 13 and on his way to being a burly-chested six feet two inches, was enrolled in Aitchison College, the subcontinent's Eton.
He was a standout in his studies and popular with his classmates. The only
problem was that once a month or so there'd be a scrap between an old boy and
a new, with Sheikh in the middle, punching for the underdog.
Teachers admired his spunk and protected him from serious discipline. But one day late in his second year, the bully Sheikh took on happened to be the son of a most influential personage. Sheikh broke the boy's nose, then presented himself to the headmaster. "Sir," he said, "the chap was very disagreeable. I tried to control myself as much as possible and I have given him the thrashing of his life."
This time, there was no saving Sheikh from expulsion. "He was a wonderful soul," a teacher laments. "A gentleman of the highest order."
Shipped back to the Forest School, Sheikh passed his A levels in 1991 and was admitted to the London School of Economics. He read math and statistics; made $1,500 a day peddling securities to his father's customers; and, in 1992, the same year he received a certificate of commendation for leaping to the rescue of a woman who'd fallen onto the tracks of the Underground, was a member of the British arm-wrestling team that competed in the world championships in Geneva. "A nice bloke," his economics tutor, George Paynter, remembered him.
The first of several turning points came in November 1992, when, during the Islamic Society's "Bosnia Week," Sheikh saw Destruction of a Nation, a graphic, 45-minute documentary on Serb atrocities committed against Muslims. "[It] shook my heart," he wrote.
During the next Easter holiday, Sheikh joined a "Caravan of Mercy," taking relief supplies to Bosnia. But in Split, Croatia, he became seriously ill from the cold and was forced to remain behind. While he recuperated, bodies were carted in, one of a 13-year-old Muslim girl who'd been raped and murdered by Serbs. Years later, Sheikh would tremble at the memory.
On his return to London, Sheikh immersed himself in military theory, dropped out of the London School of Economics, and went to Pakistan with an elaborate plan for guerrilla operations in Kashmir, including novel twist kidnappings. A four-star general who examined his scheme was not impressed, but the jihadis were. Spotted as a comer, he was dispatched for four months of advanced schooling in the arts of ambush, explosives, surveillance, and disguise.
Again his skills were noticed, and in June 1994 he was invited to join a kidnapping plot in India, where his role would be sweet-talking foreign tourists into captivity. The hostages would then be traded for Maulana Masood Azhar, a Harkut ul-Ansar leader, and others who had been taken prisoner in India.
There were miscues from the start. Sheikh didn't think much of his bosses, and they, in turn, didn't appreciate his kibitzing. They liked even less the six-foot three-inch Israeli tourist Sheikh brought back to their hideout as a proposed first hostage. "You fool," one of them hissed. "You'll get us all killed. Take him back to his hotel at once and come back in the morning."
Posing as a Hindu named "Rohit," Sheikh by and by rounded up three Britishers and an American, and dropped off a ransom note with a "rather nice" receptionist at the BBC. "Tonight she'll be telling the whole world that this big, monstrous, terrorist-looking chap came to her in person," he wrote in his diary. "Tomorrow, I'll ring her up and say, 'Actually, my dear, I'm not like that at all."'
He seemed equally blithe about his captives, challenging them to games of chess (at which Sheikh was expert) and assuring that he would kidnap only people whom he considered intelligent and wanted to spend time with.
At other moments, Sheikh joked about their prospective beheadings and rattled on about Jews' running the British Cabinet and the truths to be had from reading Mein Kampf: He also rhapsodized about the pleasures of martyrdom, saying that holy warriors ejaculated at the moment of death knowing that they had entered heaven.
The bizarre idyll climaxed in late October 1994, when Indian provincial police raided the kidnappers' hideouts. In the ensuing gun battles, two officers and one of the kidnappers were killed, and Sheikh shot m the shoulder.
The ISI paid for a lawyer, but it didn't do any good for Sheikh, who was held without trial for the next five years in a maximum-security prison, where, he said, he had been beaten and urinated on. But it didn't prevent Sheikh from smuggling out a note to a favorite Aitchison teacher:
"I hope this letter finds you soaring the heights of happiness.
Living in the cold, hard world of criminals and the brutal echelons of state power, a world of self-interest and devious calculations ... I often wander down memory lane, seeing with more experienced (hopefully wiser) eyes all those people who gave me love glowing, unselfish love. Yes, sir, you encouraged me so many times and you stood up for me when I was a hot-headed youngster. I feel indebted to you and more than a little wistful.
Sir, if possible, please do jot a quick note telling me how you and your family have fared over the last few years.... My parents are in London, busy with the old garment business. Naturally, my case came as quite a shock to them, but Allah has given them the strength to cope. They understand that this is the path I've chosen. They have been tremendously supportive.
Sir, if you could put in the occasional prayer for me that would be wonderful. I'll sign off now. Who knows, perhaps I'll pop round to see you soon.
Yours with affectionate respect . . . "
In a PS, Sheikh added, "If there are some spare copies of the last few
Aitchisonians [the school magazine], I'd be thrilled to have them."
It didn't look as if Sheikh was going to be "popping round" anywhere but his cell for the foreseeable future. But in late December 1999, Azhar's terrorist outfit now renamed Harkat ul-Mujahadeen seized an Indian airliner with 155 passengers and crew aboard; slit the throat of a honeymooning Indian businessman; and demanded the release of Azhar, Sheikh, and another jihadi. After the plane sat six days on the Kandahar tarmac under the watchful eyes of the Taliban, the Indians gave in.
Azhar went to Karachi and, before 10,000 howling supporters, called for the destruction of the U.S. and India. Then, after a few weeks touring under the protection of the ISI, he announced the formation of Jaish-e-Mohammed, the terrorist group Danny would find thriving in Bahawalpur.
Sheikh, for his part, stayed at a Kandahar guesthouse for several days, conferring with Taliban leader Mullah Muhammad Omar and reports had it Osama bin Laden, who was said to refer to him as "my special son." When he crossed the Pakistan frontier in early January 2000, an ISI colonel was waiting to conduct him to a safe house in Islamabad. From there he proceeded to London, where he reunited with family.
Relaxing with friends on his return to Lahore, Sheikh showed off his wound ("This is the benefit of speaking good English," he joked), talked about his forthcoming marriage ("My wife has an M.A.," he bragged about his bride-to-be), and confessed to pangs about killing. Poison was his instrument of choice (he demonstrated how he secreted it in his wallet), though, according to a U.S. offficial, he slit a throat once to make his jihadi bones. As for the moral qualms, Sheikh said he resolved those by recalling images of Kashmir and Bosnia.
He went next to Afghanistan, and reportedly helped devise a secure, encrypted Web-based communications system for al-Qaeda. His future in the network seemed limitless; there was even talk of one day succeeding bin Laden.
But Sheikh kept running afoul of superiors. Azhar was said to have sidelined him from Jaish after getting fed up with his bragging about Indian exploits. Following further spats with two other terrorist groups, Sheikh joined up with Aftab Ansari, an Indian-born gangster.
By August 2001, Sheikh's activities had come to the attention of British intelligence, who asked their Indian counterparts to help apprehend him.
Then came 9/11. Tracing the hijackers' funding, investigators discovered that in the weeks before the Trade Center attack someone using the alias Mustafa Muhammad Ahmad had wired more than $100,000 to hijacking ringleader Mohammed Atta. On October 6, CNN reported that the U.S. had decided that Mustafa Muhammad Ahmad and Sheikh were one and the same. Not much later the U.S. asked Pakistan to extradite him for the 1994 kidnapping.
With recruits picked up from other jihadi groups, Sheikh and Ansari, meanwhile, were mounting their first big operation, the October 1 suicide truck-bomb attack on the Kashmir assembly, which left 36 dead. On December 13 they struck again, with a shooting and grenade assault on the Parliament building in New Delhi. That incident which India charged was staged at the direction of the ISI claimed 14 lives and prompted India to mass half a million troops on the Pakistan border. Sheikh was in the midst of planning yet another operation a driveby shoot-up of the American Center in Calcutta on January 22, in which five guards were killed when Danny Pearl dropped into his lap.
"We had nothing personal against Daniel," Sheikh would later say. "Because of his hyperactivity, he caught our interest."
Danny had been here, there, and everywhere, an American Jewish reporter who lived in India, asking inconvenient questions. But his quest for a big score finally seemed within reach. Come to Room 411 of the Akbar International Hotel in Rawalpindi on January 11, he was told; "Bashir" would be waiting.
They talked for three hours. "It was a great meeting," said Sheikh, who shaved his beard and donned sunglasses for the occasion. "We ordered cold coffee and club sandwiches and had great chitchat."
But chitchat is all it was. Not wanting to seem too eager, Sheikh stressed that Gilani was a busy man; he'd have to weigh the question carefully. "I never asked Daniel to do anything," Sheikh later told his interrogators. "It was always him insisting." At the end of the meeting, Danny said he'd send along some examples of his work, and "Bashir" promised to keep him updated via E-mail.
Danny and Mariane then departed for Peshawar Dodge City, except with Kalashnikovs instead of six-guns. But, according to Rahimullah Yusufzai, the local stringer for the BBC and Time, the only thing that bothered Danny was the difficulty in gathering information.
"He said he would be keen to meet anybody from Taliban or al-Qaeda," Yusufzai recalls. "I said, 'They may be here, but [it] is impossible for you to meet them or me to meet them. They are all wanted and they would like to stay quiet. Especially they won't be meeting an American journalist.'
"I told him, 'If you try too hard, it could be risky.' But he was very focused. He was so persistent in meeting everybody who could have helped him in the story. He was after something and he wanted it."
A Journal reporter's need for a replacement computer gave Danny more reason than ever to get it.
The reporter, Moscow correspondent Alan Cullison, had had his smashed in late November, when his car rolled over while crossing the Hindu Kush. On his arrival in Kabul, a shopkeeper offered to sell him a used IBM desktop and a Compaq laptop for $4,000. Too steep, New York said; bargain him down. Cullison did, and paid $1,100 for two machines that in a billion-to-one shot turned out to have been recovered from the bombed headquarters of Mohammed Atef, Osama bin Laden's abruptly deceased military strategist.
Cullison couldn't get past the Compaq's encryption scheme, but on the IBM's hard drive he found a treasure trove of al-Qaeda materials at least 1,750 files, recording four years' worth of terrorist doings.
Fearing lives might be at stake, the Journal turned over the material to the Defense Department and the C.I.A. for review. The spooks did their screening, and the first Journal report about the documents from the IBM machine appeared December 31. But the Compaq laptop was much harder to crack, and it wasn't until January 16 that the Journal was able to publish the results. For Danny, it was worth the wait. On the hard drive was the itinerary of a target-scouting expedition by a terrorist referred to as "brother Abdul Ra'uff." It matched to a T the pre-9/11 travels of Richard C. Reid.
There was more good news the same day, with the arrival of an E-mail from "Bashir," using an address that showed Sheikh's sense of humor: Nobadmashi@yahoo.com Urdu for "no rascality."
He reported that he'd forwarded Danny's articles to Gilani and apologized for not having contacted him sooner. "I was preoccupied with looking after my wife who has been ill," Sheikh said. "[She] is back from the hospital and the whole experience was a real eye-opener. Poor people who fall ill here and have to go to hospital have a really miserable and harassing time. Please pray for her health."
Having tugged at Danny's heartstrings with a phony story about his wife, Sheikh set the hook deeper three days later with an E-mail saying that Gilani was looking forward to a get-together.
However, he was currently in Karachi and wouldn't be returning for "a number of days." "Bashir" gave Danny a choice: wait for Gilani's return, or send E-mail questions, which he'd relay to Gilani's secretary. "If Karachi is your program," Sheikh said, "you are welcome to meet him there."
Danny chose the Karachi meeting, as Sheikh who understood reporters must have known he would. Before catching the Pakistan International Airlines flight south, Danny E-mailed him his plans, along with something that Sheikh didn't know: on January 24, he and Mariane would be leaving for Dubai and from there transiting to Bombay.
Friends had been urging Danny to take a break, and though another tour of Pakistan was planned, it wouldn't be for an indefinite while. If Danny was going to get Gilani, he had to get him now.
There was another story he wanted to try to cram in: a piece on Karachi underworld boss Dawood Ibrahim, an Indian-born Muslim terrorist who enjoyed the patronage and protection of the ISI. In mid-January, while waiting for "Bashir"'s next missive, Danny called Ikram Sehgal for leads.
"I hadn't heard from him in weeks," Sehgal recalls, sipping tea in his cluttered office. "I think Danny got more and more confident. This was the biggest thing that hit him. He was suddenly having access and chasing down an area where he had no expertise." He stirs the heat from his cup. "I mean, Danny just didn't have it.
"He asked if I had any contacts with the local Mafia. I said, 'Danny, the Mafia head here doesn't function the way you think Mafias do. This is not something out of The Godfather. I know the direction you're going in. Don't do this! Forget it! If you want to know something, come over and we'll talk, not on the telephone."'
Sehgal's phone rings, as it has constantly since March 17, when militants attacked a church in Islamabad, killing U.S. Embassy employee Barbara Green and her 17-year old daughter, Kristen Wormsley. Sehgal is now providing protection for every Christian church in the country gratis.
"I found him a little naive," Sehgal goes on. "I would tell him, 'Danny, stick by the rules. Anybody you want to meet, meet him in a public place. Don't get into cars. Anyone could pick you up.' He would always say, 'Yes, you're right, Ikram, I ought to do that.' But you always had the feeling that what he was saying was perfunctory."
"Bashir" checked in again on Sunday, January 20, saying that Gilani would be available that coming Tuesday or Wednesday. Sheikh said he'd forward the phone number of a Gilani mureed (follower), who would escort him to the meeting.
"It is sad that you are leaving Pakistan so soon," Sheikh wrote. "I hope you have enjoyed your stay."
The next day, Danny and Mariane learned that their baby would be a boy. They decided to call him Adam, a name that resonates with both Muslim and Jew.
Wednesday, January 23, was going to be busy for Danny. Asra was hosting a farewell dinner party for him that night; he wanted to check out a cyber cafe to see if it was where a message was sent to Richard Reid instructing him to board the next Paris-Miami flight; he had an appointment to see Randall Bennett, the U.S. Consulate's regional security officer, at 2:30, and another to see Jamil Yusuf, head of Karachi's Citizens Police Liaison Committee, at 5:45. And then there was Gilani. "Bashir" by now had told him that "Imtiaz Siddiqi" was the mureed who'd lead him to Gilani. But Danny had yet to hear from him. Nor did he know that Siddiqi's real name was Mansur Hasnain and that he'd been one of the Indian Airlines hijackers who'd freed Sheikh in 1999.
Danny phoned his fixer in Islamabad.
"Give me a quick reply," he said. "Is it safe to see Gilani?"
Asif assured him it was; Gilani was a public figure.
Danny set off on his rounds. Mariane, who was to have come along, wasn't feeling well and stayed at Asra's.
He had a good session with Bennett at the consulate, but the cyber cafe was a bust; it didn't have the technology to trace who'd sent the E-mail to Reid. On the way to Yusuf's office, Danny called the Dow Jones bureau to ask the resident correspondent, Saaed Azhari, to set up a final appointment for him the next morning. Azhari, who couldn't fathom why Danny chanced taking cabs everywhere, rather than using a hired car and regular driver, like other correspondents, said there was something Danny ought to know: Ghulam Hasnain, the Karachi Time stringer, had gone missing the day before. Guessing was, the ISI had picked him up because of an expose he had written on Dawood Ibrahim for a Pakistani monthly.
Danny seemed unworried, and a few minutes later he was at the Citizens Police Liaison Committee building, talking to Yusuf, a former businessman who'd become a renowned crime-fighter.
On the afternoon I catch up to him, Yusuf who played a key role in catching Danny's killers is bemoaning his trouble in getting warrants for cyber searches. "Judges do not understand Yahoo is not a human being," he says, shaking his head. He then describes his last meeting with a reporter of whom he was very fond.
"He asked me about Gilani, and I said, 'I never heard of him. I don't think a lot of people have heard of him in this country.' Then he told me about this Richard Reid thing. I joked with him: I said, 'Danny, do something else. The guy is caught. He is with the F.B.I. Why waste time?'
"[When] he was sitting here, he got two phone calls. He said, 'Yes,' he is coming there at seven o'clock, somewhere close by. I did not know what was happening. He did not tell me who he was going to meet....
"I advised him, 'You cannot go and meet strangers.' It's just like me going into New York and trying to meet the Mafia, then complaining to the world I got abducted. You don't do those things.
"He was a very docile person, quiet, humble. Not a person who would go out and take risks in reporting. That is what surprised me.... [How] he came and sat here for an hour and then went to that stupid appointment of his without telling us."
Yusuf looks out the window down to where the security car he has had to hire to trail him is waiting. "Kidnapping a journalist is the easiest thing you can do," he says. "They are hungry for information.... Anybody could do it."
Danny's caller was the mureed he knew as Siddiqi, saying to meet him at the Village Garden Restaurant, next to the Metropole Hotel, a mile or so away. In the cab on the way over, Danny phoned Mariane, telling her where he was going and to start the party without him. He'd be back around eight.
The hour came and went without any sign of Danny, but initially his absence wasn't cause for concern. Pakistanis are famously sociable Gilani may have insisted on serving dinner, and the talk may have run on, as interviews with Muslim militants tended to. But midnight passed with no word from Danny, who also wasn't answering his cell phone.
Now truly worried, Asra phoned Danny's boss, foreign editor John Bussey, at the Journal's headquarters in South Brunswick, New Jersey, where it was late afternoon. Bussey told her that he'd alert the State Department.
Asra phoned Khawaja, thinking he would know whether Danny actually had a meeting. But Khawaja said he'd never heard of any meeting with Gilani.
The police arrived shortly thereafter, and Asra phoned Khawaja again, this time with an officer on the line. He asked that Khawaja put them in touch with Gilani as soon as possible. Then Asra read off "Bashir"'s and "Siddiqi"'s cell-phone numbers. Khawaja didn't recognize either of them.
By the time the flight to Dubai left the next afternoon, the story of Danny Pearl's disappearance was moving over the wires. No one was using the word "kidnapping" yet, but that was the suspicion. It was confirmed early Sunday morning, local time, by E-mails to The New York Times, The Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, and two Pakistani news organizations. Attached were four photographs of Danny in captivity, one showing a 9-mm. pistol pointed at his head and a message in English and Urdu announcing the capture of "CIA officer Daniel Pearl who was posing as a journalist for the Wall Street Journal."
The note demanded that the U.S. hand over F-16 aircraft, whose delivery to Pakistan had been frozen by 1990 nuclear sanctions; that Pakistanis detained for questioning by the F.B.I. over the 9/11 attacks be given access to lawyers and allowed to see their families; that Pakistani nationals held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, be returned to their homeland to stand trial; and that the Taliban's ambassador to Pakistan, now held in Afghanistan, be returned to Pakistan.
Of Danny, the note said, "Unfortunately, he is at present being kept in very inhuman circumstances quite similar in fact to the way that Pakistanis and nationals of other sovereign countries are being kept in Cuba by the American Army. If the Americans keep our countrymen in better conditions we will better the conditions of Mr. Pearl and the other Americans that we capture."
Sent on the account of email@example.com, the message was signed, "The National Movement for the Restoration of Pakistani Sovereignty."
Police had never heard of the group, but the name sounded a gong at the Islamabad bureau of the BBC, which in late October had received a package from the "National Youth Movement for the Sovereignty of Pakistan." Inside were an unplayable videocassette and a computer printout announcing the capture of an alleged C.I.A. operative, "one Joshua Weinstein, alias Martin Johnson, an American national and a resident of California." Also enclosed was a photograph of a male Caucasian in his 30s. Flanked by two robed and hooded men aiming AK47s at his head, he was holding up a Pakistani newspaper showing the date of his abduction just as Danny would months later.
U.S. Embassy officials said at the time that no one named Joshua Weinstein or Martin Johnson had either come to Pakistan or been reported missing, and that the letter was a hoax. When local police agencies and other Western embassies said the same, the BBC let it drop. But the release of the virtually identical Pearl materials got the BBC checking again with American diplomats. Was the first "kidnapping" truly a hoax? Why so many similarities between the October episode and Pearl's abduction? The response was a studied silence.
Police, meanwhile, were focusing their suspicions on Harkat ul-Mujahedeen, the terrorist group that had hijacked the airliner to free Sheikh and Azhar. With a number of its members killed by U.S. air strikes, Harkat ul-Mujahedeen had the motive, as well as the M.O., its predecessor group, Harkat ul-Ansar. being thought responsible for the kidnapping and presumed murder of a group of backpackers in India in 1995.
Trouble was, this didn't have the feel of a jihadi operation. Where were the allahu ahkbars in the note? The riffs about Palestine and infidels and Western demons? There wasn't even a mention of "Zionist conspiracy." Instead, the demands read like an A.C.L.U. press release. The English was too good, too. Usage, spelling, and grammar were virtually perfect, and the few errors seemed deliberate, as if the writer was trying to hide his education. Jihadis didn't have to feign lack of schooling; most were illiterate.
One investigator, inspired, typed "foreign," "kidnapper," and "suspect" onto Google.com and clicked search. The first listing that popped up was "Omar Saeed Sheikh."
No one believed it; couldn't be that easy. Within days, the elite Criminal Investigation Division determined the true identity of "Arif" and raided his house where they found relatives in the midst of a Muslim prayer service for the dead. "Arif" had been killed fighting the Americans in Afghanistan, they claimed. No one believed that either, and a nationwide manhunt got under way.
The Journal, meanwhile, was moving on several fronts. Managing editor Paul Steiger issued a statement that Danny was not now nor ever had been an employee of any agency of the U.S. government, and the C.I.A. broke long-standing policy to say the same. Foreign editor Bussey and correspondent Steve LeVine flew in to shepherd Mariane, whose Buddhist group was chanting a mantra for Danny. A media strategy was devised. Mariane made herself available for interviews, but only to outlets that had Pakistan reach, such as CNN and the BBC. Questions about what story Danny was working on were deflected, lest the truth cause him harm. Finally, a confidential appeal was made to major U.S. media organizations to not disclose that Danny's parents were Israeli. All agreed.
But on January 30, Danny's Jewishness leaked. In a story in The News, Kamran Khan, the paper's chief investigative reporter, wrote that "some Pakistani security officials not familiar with the worth of solid investigative reporting in the international media are privately searching for answers as to why a Jewish American reporter was exceeding 'his limits' to investigate [a] Pakistani religious group."
"An India based Jewish reporter serving a largely Jewish media organisation should have known the hazards of exposing himself to radical Islamic groups, particularly those who recently got crushed under American military might," Khan quoted "a senior Pakistani official" as saying.
Having let the religious cat out of the bag, Khan who doubles as a special correspondent for The Washington Post revealed Danny's relationship with Asra Nomani, whom he claimed falsely Danny had imported from India to be "his full time assistant."
"Officials are also guessing, rather loudly, as to why Pearl decided to bring in an Indian journalist," Khan wrote. "[They are] also intrigued as to why an American newspaper reporter based in [Bombay] would also establish a full time residence in Karachi by renting a residence."
Khan's revelations stunned colleagues. But there was no wondering about the source of his information: he was well known for his contacts at the highest levels of the ISI.
The same morning Khan's story appeared, the kidnappers released a second note, changing Danny's supposed spying affiliation from the C.I.A. to the Mossad, the Israeli intelligence service.
The language that followed differed radically from the first note:
"U cannot fool us and find us. We are inside seas,oceans,hills,grave yards, every where.
We give u I more day if America will not meet our demands we will kill Daniel. Then this cycle will continue and no American journalist could enter Pakistan.
AHah is with us and will protect us.
We had given our demands and if u will not then "we" will act and the Amrikans will get teir part what they deserve. Don't think this will be the end, it is the beggining and it is a real war on Amrikans. Amrikans will get the taste of death and destructions what we had got in Afg and Pak.Inshallah This did not sound like Sheikhand it wasn't. A note later found on his computer read, "We have investigated and found that Daniel Pearl does not work for the CIA. Therefore, we are releasing him unconditionally."
Having lured Danny, Sheikh had ceased calling the shots; Danny's fate was now in the hands of more murderous others. Investigators, however, were still concentrating on Gilani, who turned himself in on January 30, protesting his innocence and ticking off the names of more than a dozen senior and retired officials who would vouch for his services to state security.
After interrogating Khawaja who backed Gilani's story police began having second thoughts. Ul-Fuqra had never been involved with violence in Pakistan and indeed had become so inactive of late the State Department had dropped it from the terrorist list. Someone had set Gilani up. But who?
In Karachi, a newly arrived contingent of F.B.I. men were tracing the source of the kidnappers' E-mails, while Yusuf's Citizens Police Liaison Committee was manually sorting the connections among 23,500 telephone calls. The effort paid off, with the identification of Fahad Naseem an employee of a cyber cafe, as the sender of the E-mails and the linking of his phone calls to two other conspirators.
The police moved just after dark, heading off in unmarked vans to grab Fahad. If Pakistani interrogation methods had their usual brutal efficacy, Fahad would quickly lead them to the second kidnapper, who likewise persuaded would lead them to the third, who would rapidly decide that giving up the boss was in his best interest. When they got him, they'd have Danny. It all had to be pulled off by morning prayers at the mosque. After that, everyone in town would know.
Stops one, two, and three yielded the desired results. But they were stymied at four. They had the ringleader's name, his phone number, his uncle's Karachi address before sunup, they even had his uncle, cousin, and aunt in custody. The aunt placed a call to his cell phone, begging him to surrender. Then the lead officer came on the line. "The game's up, Sheikh," he said. The answer was a click.
For days, nothing more happened. Sheikh appeared to have vanished, and there were no further messages from the kidnappers. Fake messages, though, were cascading in, including one which said that Danny's body could be found in a Karachi cemetery. Three-hundred-plus cemeteries were scoured; no body. But a fresh corpse was found in a vacant lot near the airport. Though the face had been rendered unrecognizable by a bullet, to Randall Bennett, who'd been summoned to the morgue, the victim seemed the right age, skin color, and body type. But something was odd about the mouth; ever so slightly, it seemed puffy.
"Roll back his lips," Bennett asked. He let out a breath at the sight of metal. Danny had smiled often during their meeting; Bennett knew he didn't wear braces.
On his way to visit George W. Bush, General Musharraf who was now blaming India for the abduction assured the world that all would be well. The case had been cracked: Danny's release was expected any minute.
February 14, Sheikh made a liar out of him. According to the police, he'd been captured in a daring raid in Lahore two days before. The truth was that he'd been turned over by Brigadier Ejaz Shah, home secretary of Punjab and formerly a hard-line officer of the ISI. Sheikh had turned himself over to Shah February 5, and for a week it had been hidden from the police. "Whatever I have done, right or wrong, I have my reasons, and I confess," Sheikh said when he was brought before a magistrate. "As far as I understand, Daniel Pearl is dead."
Police interrogated him for a week, a silent ISI man always present, but got little else. "You are my Pakistani and Muslim brothers," he said. "You can't be as cruel as Hindu policemen were with me in India."
Then, one day, the lead investigator the officer who'd said, "Your game is up, Sheikh" visited his cell. They discussed the Koran, and the investigator said, "Show me in the Koran where it says you can lie."
"Give me half an hour," said Sheikh. He said his prayers and made his ablutions, and then he told them nearly everything. He'd learned that Danny had been killed, he said, when he called "Siddiqi" from Lahore, February 5, and ordered, "Shift the patient to the doctor" a prearranged code for Danny to be released. "Siddiqi" replied, "Dad has expired. We have done the scan and completed the X rays and postmortem" meaning that Danny had been videotaped and buried. As he understood it, Sheikh said, Danny had been shot while trying to escape. Where the videotape was or what was on it, he said he didn't know.
The sole subject he refused to discuss was the week he had spent with his ISI
"I know people in the government and they know me and my work" was all he'd say.
A week later the videotape was recovered in a classic sting. A man (authorities won't reveal his identity) called a Karachi journalist (nor his) and said he had a tape of what had happened to Danny Pearl, and would sell it to the movies for $100,000. The journalist told the U.S. Consulate, which instructed him to tell the man to bring it to the lobby of the Karachi Sheraton at four o'clock, where a movie producer would meet him. An F.B.I. agent played the role to perfection.
They watched the tape on Bennett's living-room VCR over and over, to make sure of its authenticity. But that was Danny, all right, shirt off, unconscious, on his back. A three-inch wound could be seen in his left side. A hand and part of a forearm came into the frame, holding a large butcher knife. The person wielding it seemed expert.
The rest you probably know by now. Mariane appeared on Larry King and signed a book deal and had her baby. People wept at memorial services for Danny in New York, Washington, Los Angeles, London, and Jerusalem. As of this writing, Sheikh and three co-defendants were still on trial. Everyone in Pakistan expects all of them to be convicted and sentenced to die by hanging.
You no doubt are aware, too, that Danny's dismembered body was found in a shallow grave in the garden of a nursery outside Karachi in mid-May. The terrorists who led police to it said that Danny was picked up by a taxi outside the Village Garden, taken to a nearby location, put into a van there, and driven around Karachi for hours. He was very calm, they said, and did not resist. When at last they came to their final destination, he asked, "Where is the man I wanted to meet?"
His killing moved people who are normally very tough about such things. The lead investigator wept when he told Mariane Danny was dead, and for the first time in years working hazard posts, Randy Bennett let the grotesque get to him. He was coming back to the consulate after endlessly watching the videotape, and a Pakistani was standing in the street covered in the blood of a goat whose throat he'd just slit. Bennett saw a large butcher knife in his hand, then the man shot him an "I hate Americans" look. He slammed on the brakes, got out, and went up to him jaw to jaw. "You got a problem with me?" he said.
I never did answer the "why" of everything. Sheikh said that the reason was to strike a blow at Musharraf, while Musharraf himself said it was because Danny was "overly inquisitive." And more than a few knowledgeable Pakistanis think the ISI was involved. When asked by Vanity Fair whether it shares that view, The Wall Street Journal issued a two-word written answer: "No comment."
One "why" I was able to answer: Why did Danny risk everything for a story? I didn't need to go to Karachi to find out; I could remember.
Recent reports state that the decapitated body found in a shallow grave in Karachi, Pakistan is indeed that of murdered American Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl. Pearl's remains were identified using DNA techniques and have been transferred out of Pakistan.
© Copyright 2002
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