Background on the death of Daniel Pearl

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Sat Feb 23 09:52:44 MST 2002


The Times (London), February 23, 2002, Saturday

Pakistani police may have sealed the captive's fate

Zahid Hussain in Karachi and Daniel McGrory

THE capture of Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh, the former English public
schoolboy turned terrorist, may have been the death sentence for
Daniel Pearl.

Security chiefs in Pakistan are facing an embarrassing inquest into
how they botched the operation despite repeated assurances from
ministers that they were close to freeing the US journalist.

There are claims that the Pakistani secret service tried to make a
deal with Omar Sheikh before President Musharraf of Pakistan flew to
Washington to meet President Bush.

FBI agents in Karachi, who were helping to search for the Wall Street
Journal reporter, believe that Pakistani security chiefs may have
made a fatal error in dealing with their main suspect. They thought
it a clumsy mistake to name Omar Sheikh before they had captured him.
US officials also wanted a press blackout as televised pronouncements
by Pakistani security chiefs simply served to warn the kidnappers
what leads police were following.

The FBI now wants to know why Pakistan's secret service, the ISI, did
not reveal for seven days that it was holding Omar Sheikh. For days
before his arrest, the 27-year-old former London School of Economics
student had boasted to relatives that he was in regular telephone
contact with his accomplices from the Pakistani militant group
Jaish-i-Muhammad.

On February 12, he told police that he had spoken to his comrades
only 48 hours before his reported capture and insisted Mr Pearl was
unharmed.

Security sources in Karachi claim that Omar Sheikh was then refused
his demand to stay in contact with the kidnappers while he was in
custody.

The fear is that when he did not telephone, it was a signal for those
holding Mr Pearl to kill their hostage. Detectives say that when he
was first questioned, Omar Sheikh revealed details of the kidnapping
that police had not made public.

It was allegedly one of Omar Sheikh's mobile telephones that one of
the kidnap gang used to contact the reporter to ensure that he was on
his way to the rendezvous.

There is still some doubt about the date when Omar Sheikh was
arrested. FBI agents say this is critical to discovering when Mr
Pearl was executed. Police announced that they had captured him on
February 12 in his hideout in Lahore where he was staying with his
Pakistani wife and young son. Yet when he appeared in court, he told
how he had given himself up a week earlier, on February 5.

He claimed that he had surrendered to police in exchange for them
ending the arrests and harassment of family members including his
90-year-old grandfather who was jailed for a time.

Omar Sheikh is believed to have been in the custody of the Pakistani
secret service, the ISI. The organisation has long been connected
with the Islamic militant groups fighting the Indian forces in
Kashmir. When after a week the ISI failed to get a deal with Omar
Sheikh they handed him over to police. Four key suspects are still on
the run despite Omar Sheikh revealing their names.

Pakistani investigators were surprised to find how deeply this
Islamic group was entrenched in some of the key security departments.
One of the first to be arrested was working with the special branch
of the police.

The failure of the rescue operation came as the US State Department
was refining its policy on how to deal with groups who take Americans
hostage. One proposal is dropping the ban on making concessions to
abductors, allowing for the payment of ransoms or meeting other
demands as long as such actions will assist in tracking down the
kidnappers. It also suggests that the US military and diplomatic
officials can intervene in all kidnap cases not just those involving
captured soldiers and diplomats.

FBI agents in Pakistan will not say what they were prepared to offer
Omar Sheikh in return for Mr Pearl's safe release.
--
Louis Proyect, lnp3 at panix.com on 02/23/2002

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