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. -AP Photo

WASHINGTON: The wrong men were convicted of murdering US reporter Daniel Pearl, who was kidnapped and beheaded in Pakistan in 2002, and US officials stood in the way of the real murdered being brought to justice for the grisly crime, a report released Thursday says.

British-Pakistani Omar Sheikh and three other men who were convicted of killing Pearl were not even present when the Wall Street Journal reporter was murdered, says the Pearl Project report, which was led by Pearl's friend and former colleague, Asra Nomani.

Meanwhile, the man fingered in the report as Pearl's killer, Al-Qaeda strategist and suspected mastermind of the attacks of September 11, 2001, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, is unlikely ever to be brought to justice for the journalist's brutal slaying.

The report says Mohammed told US investigators at Guantanamo Bay prison that he slit Pearl's throat and severed his head, and a technique called vein-matching has shown that his hand matches the “beefy right hand” captured in a video of Pearl's murder.

But US officials opted not to charge Mohammed with Pearl's murder, fearing doing so would unravel their strategy for trying him along with four others for the attacks in New York and Washington on September 11, 2001.

“The Pearl Project reveals that justice was not served for Danny,” said Nomani, from whose home in Karachi Pearl set out on January 23, 2002, the day he was abducted.

Pearl thought he was heading to an interview with the alleged facilitator of shoe-bomber Richard Reid, the Briton who tried to blow up a US-bound passenger jet over the Atlantic by igniting explosives packed into his footwear.

While the conspirators in Pearl's abduction and slaying were “inept” and bungling, US and Pakistani investigators who worked the case were not much better, the report says.

They began the case “chasing the wrong suspect, giving the killers time to slay Pearl and disappear.” They let a key informant go and failed to follow several potential leads.

The journalist's killers bungled Pearl's murder and had to restage it after “the cameraman failed to capture the original scene.”The report was released after a three-year probe, almost nine years to the day of Pearl's abduction on January 23, 2002.

Pearl's body was found four months after he disappeared, cut into a dozen pieces, the head severed, the upper torso still clad “in the light blue track suit that Pearl's kidnappers had him wear.”

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