ISLAMABAD / GUJRAT: Tuesday added another chapter to the bloody history of Pakistan’s press freedom record when the body of missing journalist Syed Saleem Shahzad was found.
It was confirmed by the capital police as well as its counterparts in Mandi Bahauddin that a body buried in a local graveyard at Mandi Bahauddin was suspected to be that of Shahzad, an Islamabad-based journalist who had gone missing from the capital on Sunday evening. He had disappeared en route to a news channel’s office in Sector F-6 from his house in F-8/4.
Shahzad, who was the bureau chief for the Hong Kong-based Asia Times, an online publication, and the Italian news agency Adnkronos (AKI) and had worked for the Dawn Media Group’s evening newspaper Star for over a decade, was known for his investigative reporting on militancy and Al Qaeda. He had moved to Islamabad after Star closed down in 2007.
His book, “Inside Al-Qaeda & the Taliban: Beyond Bin Laden and 9/11”, had recently been published.
After his disappearance, the Human Rights Watch alleged that Shahzad had been picked up by the ISI and that the intelligence agency had threatened him last year as well when he had reported on the quiet release of Mullah Baradar, an aide to Mullah Omar, who had been captured by Pakistan earlier.
Ali Dayan, Pakistan researcher for HRW, also made public an email that Shahzad had sent then with the instructions to make it public in case something happened to him. The email provided Shahzad’s account of a meeting he held with two ISI officials on October 17, 2010.
After he disappeared on Sunday, there were allegations that he had been picked up by the ISI because of his recent story on the PNS Mehran base attack. Shahzad had reported that the attack took place after the Navy identified and interrogated a few of its lower-level officers for their ties with Al Qaeda.
Reporters without Borders also released a statement after Shahzad’s death was confirmed which said: “Experienced journalists in Islamabad said they suspected that Shahzad was kidnapped and executed by the military intelligence agency known as the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI)…
“Sources close to Shahzad said he had reported getting several warnings from the security agencies in the past… This would tend to support the theory that he was kidnapped and killed in connection with his coverage of the attack on the naval base.”
On Tuesday it came to light that the body found at Head Rasul a day earlier was of the missing journalist. He was identified from the photos taken of the corpse on Tuesday during the postmortem at District Headquarters Hospital Mandi Bahauddin.
The police force’s efficiency knew no bounds on Tuesday. First the police force of Sara-i-Alamgir found an abandoned Toyota Corolla, which belonged to Shahzad, near the Upper Jhelum Canal. The vehicle, which had gone missing along with the journalist, had a broken window and a damaged ignition switch, hinting at car theft.
The police also found two CNICs and press cards, as well as other documents pertaining to Shahzad. They then contacted the Margalla police in Islamabad.
Once the police from Islamabad examined the car and determined its owner’s identity, they were informed by their counterparts that the Mandi Bahauddin police had found a body a day earlier.
According to the details collected by Dawn, some passersby spotted a corpse in the water on Monday. The Head Rasul police shifted the body to the DHQ.
Unusually quickly for Pakistani police, all legal formalities were completed, the autopsy was conducted on the unidentified body and it was handed over to Edhi Centre for burial. It was interred at the local graveyard temporarily.
According to the police, the postmortem report said that Shahzad had been subjected to severe torture. The report said he had 15 major injuries including fractured ribs and deep wounds on the abdomen.
It was also evident that the journalist’s hands and feet had been tied as there were marks on his wrists and ankles. However, his hands and feet were not tied when he was found.
The police said that the victim had been killed in the early hours of Monday.
The Mandi Bahauddin police told the capital police that there was no mortuary at the DHQ and Edhi Centre to keep the body; hence the pace at which it was buried.
The family, which was contacted by the capital police, identified him from the photographs, clothes and cards. Shahzad leaves behind a widow and three children.
Since the reports were first aired about the car and the body, condemnations had been pouring in from far and wide.
Human rights organisations, journalists and government officials were quick to condemn the incident. Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani also ordered an immediate inquiry into the kidnapping and murder.