Pearl’s murder was related to international terrorism, court told

Published December 3, 2020
Daniel Pearl, a 38-year-old journalist, was doing research on religious extremism when he was kidnapped in Karachi in January 2002. — Dawn archives
Daniel Pearl, a 38-year-old journalist, was doing research on religious extremism when he was kidnapped in Karachi in January 2002. — Dawn archives

ISLAMABAD: The Sindh government’s counsel Farooq H. Naek on Wednesday tried to convince the Supreme Court that the kidnapping and subsequent cold-blooded murder of US journalist Daniel Pearl was part of events related to international terrorism.

To substantiate the claim, he cited the testimony of principal accused Ahmed Omer Saeed Sheikh who, during the recording of his evidence before the trial court on March 2, 2002, had expressed apprehension that he might be extradited to the United States. Sheikh had also warned that if he was extradited, the US would suffer in the same way as did India.

The counsel said one of the defence witnesses, Rauf Ahmed Sheikh — a close relative of the principal accused — had admitted in his testimony that this was in his knowledge that Omer Sheikh was arrested by the Indian authorities and also tried in India but later released on account of the hijacking of an Indian Airlines aircraft in 1999. However, the witness had stated that he was not sure whether Omer Sheikh was released in consequences of the demand made by the hijackers of the Indian aircraft for his release.

A three-judge Supreme Court bench comprising Justice Mushir Alam, Justice Sardar Tariq Masood and Justice Yahya had taken up a set of appeals filed by the Sindh government, the mother and father of Pearl namely Ruth Pearl and Judea Pearl through senior counsel Faisal Siddiqui as well as Omer Sheikh.

The appeals challenge the April 2 Sindh High Court (SHC)’s overturning of Omer Sheikh’s conviction for kidnapping and killing Daniel Pearl.

The 38-year-old South Asia bureau chief of The Wall Street Journal was kidnapped in Karachi in January 2002 while doing research on religious extremism. Later a graphic video showing his decapitation was delivered to the US consulate after a month of his abduction. Subsequently Omer Sheikh was arrested and sentenced to death by the trial court.

Lawyer recalls testimonies of principal accused, others to substantiate his assertion

But on April 2 this year, the SHC modified the sentence of Omer Sheikh to seven-year imprisonment and acquitted three other accused namely Fahad Naseem, Sheikh Adil and Salman Saqib, who were earlier sentenced to life imprisonment by an antiterrorism court of Karachi.

On Wednesday Mr Naek argued before the Supreme Court that five issues hinged around the question in determining the fate of the appeals with which the court was seized.

The issues that needed to be hammered out were whether Omer Sheikh hatched the conspiracy to abduct Daniel Pearl and demanded ransom after the abduction. Whether Daniel Pearl was kidnapped in pursuance of the conspiracy for kidnapping for ransom and ransom demand was emailed to his wife on Jan 27, 2002 and on her failure to respond another email was sent on Jan 30, 2002 with a threat to kill the journalist with the pictures showing him in shackles.

Was it not true that Daniel Pearl was subsequently murdered due to non-adherence to ransom demand, the counsel argued, adding whether these acts of kidnapping and subsequent murder of Daniel Pearl did not strike terror and instil a sense of fear and insecurity in the society.

Explaining further, Mr Naek cited the testimonies of a journalist, Asif Mehfooz Farooqi, Amin Afzal Qureshi, the receptionist of Akbar Hotel, Rawalpindi, and Javed Abbas, a Karachi-based police inspector of investigation wing.

Asif Farooqi in his statement had acknowledged that he had met Daniel Pearl who was following a story on Richard Colvin Reid — the notorious shoe bomber — who was said to be a mureed (disciple) of Syed Mubarak Ali Shah Gillani.

The witness deposed that Arif, an absconding accused in the case, had told Farooqi that he could arrange his meeting with Omer Sheikh, who was staying at Akbar Hotel in room No. 411 and Omer Sheikh may arrange an interview with Syed Gillani.

But this was all deceit and the real purpose was to kidnap Daniel Pearl, the counsel argued.

Omer Sheikh had booked the hotel room with the name of Muzaffar Farooqi but when he met Daniel Pearl, he introduced himself with the name Bashir.

Later Daniel Pearl went to Karachi where he was kidnapped and killed, the witness stated, also admitting that he received a call from the journalist’s wife telling him that Daniel Pearl had not returned after his meeting with someone in Karachi.

The witness had identified Omer Sheikh at the trial court.

The counsel argued that this impersonation on part of Omer Sheikh showed that he conspired to kidnap Daniel Pearl and then demand ransom, adding there seemed no reason to have so many aliases. The only motive was to kidnap Daniel Pearl and then demand ransom for his release, Mr Naek said adding the journalist was not a beautiful woman.

The Supreme Court will continue hearing on Thursday.

Published in Dawn, December 3rd, 2020

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