New investigation into murder of Daniel Pearl released


Khalid Sheikh Mohammed

On Thursday, The Center for Public Integrity released a new report detailing the circumstances of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl's kidnapping and murder. The report confirms that 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (KSM) was the terrorist who ultimately killed Pearl. Another senior al Qaeda operative, Saif al Adel, reportedly involved KSM in the plot after Pakistani terrorist groups orchestrated the initial kidnapping.

The report's authors note that there was seamless cooperation between Pakistani terrorist groups such as Lashkar-e-Janghvi (LeJ), which took the lead in the kidnapping, and al Qaeda. Members of other Pakistani terrorist groups such as Harkat-ul-Jihad-e-Islami (HUJI), Harkat ul-Mujahideen (HUM), and Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP) were also involved in Pearl's kidnapping and murder, according to the report.

In his book, Who Killed Daniel Pearl? (2003), Bernard-Henri LÚvy first noticed how members of these various groups, as well as Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) and Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM), came together in the plot.

All of these organizations were originally proxies of Pakistan's powerful Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency. Today, members from each are represented in what is known as the Punjabi Taliban, which was forged as part of al Qaeda's overarching strategy to consolidate the disparate Pakistani jihadist groups under a single banner. [See LWJ report, Top link between al Qaeda and Taliban thought killed in US Predator strike in Khyber.]


Omar Saeed Sheikh

A British-born Pakistani terrorist named Omar Saeed Sheikh originally orchestrated Pearl's kidnapping and there is evidence, according to the report's authors, that Sheikh considered ransoming Pearl. Sheikh, who is a member of Harkat ul-Mujahideen (HUM), worked with various organizations in the Pakistani jihadist hydra throughout his career.

At some point, al Qaeda took over the operation and decided to kill Pearl. And the report offers new details concerning KSM's and al Qaeda's involvement.

KSM's role has long been debated, with some questioning his confession. "I decapitated with my blessed right hand the head of the American Jew, Daniel Pearl, in the city of Karachi, Pakistan. For those who would like to confirm, there are pictures of me on the Internet holding his head," KSM admitted during a hearing at Guantanamo in March 2007.

According to the report's authors, KSM first confessed to killing Pearl after being subjected to waterboarding by the CIA in 2003. Years later, in 2007, KSM also confessed to FBI agents who were tasked with interviewing him independent from the CIA's so-called enhanced interrogation program.

"KSM told FBI agents in Guantanamo that he personally slit Pearl's throat and severed his head to make certain he'd get the death penalty and to exploit the murder for propaganda," the Center for Public Integrity's report reads. "Some U.S. and Pakistani officials believe KSM may have been assisted by two of his nephews, Musaad Aruchi, whose whereabouts aren't publicly known, and Ali Abdul Aziz Ali, KSM's trusted aid, who is incarcerated in Guantanamo Bay." Ali Abdul Aziz Ali was also involved in the September 11 operation.


Saif al-Adel

At first, according to the report, al Qaeda's top leaders did not know of the Pearl plot. But then KSM received a call from another top al Qaeda operative, Saif al Adel, who sits on al Qaeda's military committee and is wanted for his role in the Aug. 7, 1998 US embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania. Al Adel has recently returned to northern Pakistan from Iran, where he was held in a loose form of house arrest, to assume a senior leadership position with al Qaeda.

KSM told FBI agents that al Adel said, "Listen, he's been kidnapped. These people don't know what do with him. They want to know if we want him." Al Adel "thought this was an opportunity" for al Qaeda. KSM told the FBI that he did not know how al Adel got in touch with the plotters.

Intelligence officials contacted by The Long War Journal point out that KSM's story implies that Saif al Adel was in fact senior to KSM within the al Qaeda organization in early 2002 and could give him orders. KSM also told his FBI interviewers that either Ayman al Zawahiri, al Qaeda's number two leader, or al Adel made KSM work with Richard Reid in 2001. KSM considered Reid, who failed to blow up an airliner with a shoe bomb in December 2001, to be an unreliable amateur.

In addition to KSM's confessions, according to the report's authors, the FBI and CIA "used a technique called vein-matching to compare the hand of the killer in the murder video with a photo of Mohammed's hand."

KSM's admission is also "corroborated by Pakistani police interrogation reports of at least two suspects involved in the kidnapping."

The tip of the jihadist spear

The Center for Public Integrity's report highlights the deep cooperation between the alphabet soup of Pakistani terrorist groups and al Qaeda. Although the report's authors see Pearl's murder as the first instance of such cooperation, in reality al Qaeda had worked closely with these groups long before.

Throughout the 1990s, al Qaeda's training camps in Afghanistan hosted many of the same groups that were later involved in Pearl's murder. And since the jihad against the Soviets in the 1980s, al Qaeda's top leaders, including Osama bin Laden, have maintained relationships with the heads of the various Pakistani terrorist groups.

That cooperation, as the report correctly notes, has only increased over time. [See LWJ report, Analysis: Al Qaeda is the tip of the jihadist spear.]


Matiur Rehman, image from ABC News

Al Qaeda and the Pakistani jihadist groups have formed what senior US officials, including Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, call a "syndicate" of allied terrorist organizations. A clear example of this can be found in the career of Matiur Rehman, who is identified as a key figure in the Pearl plot.

Rehman is described as a member of Harkat-ul-Jihad-e-Islami (HUJI) in the report. But the US Treasury Department designated him as a terrorist in December 2010 for his role as both a LeJ commander and a senior al Qaeda operational leader. [See LWJ report, US designates Pakistan-based leaders of Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, Jaish-e-Mohammed as terrorists.]

Rehman is said to manage al Qaeda's 'Rolodex' of fighters who have passed through training camps and safe houses. Treasury described Rehman as LeJ's "chief operational commander" and a "planning director" who has "worked on behalf of al Qaeda."

Rehman, who sits on al Qaeda's external operations council, has been traced to multiple plots against the West, including the 2006 London airline plot. The foiled attack, which has been called the "son of Bojinka," was modeled after the 1995 Bojinka plot devised by Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and his nephew Ramzi Yousef. Rehman also assisted Adnan el Shukrijumah, another top al Qaeda leader who is the operations chief for North America, in training the al Qaeda operatives who planned to attack trains in the New York City area in 2009.

"Rehman has also been implicated in plots or attacks against a former Pakistani president, a former Pakistani prime minister, and the U.S. consulate in Karachi," Treasury stated in its designation.

The murder of Daniel Pearl demonstrates just how integrated al Qaeda and various Pakistani terrorist organizations had become by early 2002. Terrorists such as Matiur Rehman have made sure that the alliance has only grown stronger over time.


READER COMMENTS: "New investigation into murder of Daniel Pearl released"

Posted by Charu at January 21, 2011 3:54 PM ET:

Although KSM personally butchered Daniel Pearl, the late journalist was effectively killed by the ISI operative Omar Saeed Sheikh. All these Pakistani terror organizations are controlled and tightly run by the ISI. Therefore, if by 2002 AQ and the Pakistani jihadists were in alliance, then by extension the ISI/Pakistani military were also allied with AQ at that time. While the Pakistanis did not mind turning over KSM, they've kept Omar Sheikh in "protective custody" to keep him from spilling the beans on their alliance with AQ. The whole corrupt festering mob syndicate that is the Pakistani military would collapse if we ever got our hands on Omar Sheikh (and AQ Khan).

Posted by Charley at January 21, 2011 3:59 PM ET:

It is confusing when there are two Sheikhs (KSM and OSS), and both are depraved killers. But what is clear is the systematic role of Pakistan and ISI in killing our people and troops.

It would be nice if someone figures out how many of US troop fatalities and injuries in OEF are directly or indirectly attributable to Pakistan playing both sides.

Posted by Asra Nomani at January 22, 2011 12:38 PM ET:

Dear Mr. Joscelyn,

Thank you for your very smart analysis putting the findings of our report, THE TRUTH LEFT BEHIND, into the larger context of America's counterterrorism effort.

By way of introduction, my name is Asra Nomani, and I am a co-author of the investigation, published by the Center for Public Integrity and conducted by 32 incredibly bright students at Georgetown University and my faculty colleague, Barbara Feinman Todd. Doing this work was very personally motivated, as Danny was a friend and WSJ colleague who left my house when he was kidnapped.

You can read the full report at this link:

In "Key Findings," your readers can find the PDF of the report, as well as a social network analysis chart created using Palantir technology, showing the "family tree" of the cells and 27 suspects with a role in Danny's kidnapping and murder.

It's an honor to have you write about the report's contribution to figuring out the challenges the U.S. faces fighting militancy, extremism and al-Qaeda in the Afghanistan and Pakistan region. You get it.

What we found was that while four men were convicted in Danny's murder, 27 men were actually involved, of which 14 are free because of Pakistan's revolving door of justice, and those free men include Mati-ur Rehman, whom you appropriately highlight.

I too paused at the description that the Pakistani police had of Mati-ur Rehman being affiliated with Harkat-ul-Jihad-e-Islami (HUJI), rather than Lashkar-e-Jhangvi. I think that these various affiliations reflect the way the militants move between groups.

And your point regarding the question of Saif el-Adel's relationship with KSM in the organizational hierarchy is a good one. It's not clear if Saif el-Adel was calling KSM to order him or to advise him. This is something that, indeed, it would be good to establish.

Most of all thank you for bringing important attention to our work, and if we can assist you or your readers please do let me know. I can be reached at asra(a) If your readers have any questions about the report, I am happy to answer them here.

Best, Asra

Posted by captainjohann at January 23, 2011 1:27 AM ET:

I think there is something here which is NOT fully understood. Though Omar Saeed Sheikh managed the kidnapping of Daniel Pearl, the honour to "halal" his throat was given to KSM, may be as a reward for his role in 9/11.Slitting Jews throats in Halal way is something of a religious honour.
Omar Saeed Sheikh is the one who was originally arrested in India when he was scouting for white foreigner tourists to be kidnapped.His importance was never understood by Indian Intelligence. It will be interesting to see who influenced in India about his jail custody. Omar was also sure that he will never be hanged in Pakistan.
The more one knows about Daniel Pearl, one sees how he has done something which no other journalist of USA could do even today. Infact in his death he is opening the eyes of US Intelligence establishment about Pakistani Army and the Hierarchy amongst terrorists.