Friday 23 February 2018

Grisly video that captured Daniel Pearl's last moments

Peter Popham in Delhi

THE gruesome video of Daniel Pearl's execution reached the office of the government of Sindh province in southern Pakistan at about 11pm on Thursday.

It arrived only hours before the beginning of the great Muslim holiday of Eid, the culmination of the Haj pilgrimage to Mecca.

Daniel Pearl, South Asia correspondent of the Wall Street Journal, was in Karachi with his pregnant wife Mariane, trying to piece together links between the British "shoe bomber" Richard Reid, now in custody in America, and Islamic extremists based in Pakistan, when he was kidnapped.

He disappeared on January 23.

Three days later, e-mails reached the work stations of western media, with photograph attachments showing Danny in chains and with a gun pressed to his head.

One more e-mail was dispatched on January 30, warning that he would be killed within 24 hours if action was not taken regarding their demands - chiefly the return for trial in Pakistan of Pakistani al-Qa'ida suspects held at Guantanamo Bay.

However, US Secretary of State Colin Powell had already made it plain there was no room for negotiation on that issue.

The deadline was later extended to 48 hours. The kidnappers made no further attempts to get in touch.

Nobody knows when Mr Pearl was finally murdered. But the timing of the delivery of the horrific video has a ghastly resonance.

The principal event of Eid all over the Islamic world is the sacrifice of goats and sheep. The legs of choice, plump billy goats and rams are firmly bound, a small pit is dug in the ground to receive the blood, then the head of the household presses the animal's neck towards the pit and then slits it.

The ritual commemorates the rescue of Isaac from the blade of Abraham, his father, thanks to the intervention of God, who sent a sheep to take the child's place.

And the video, too, showed a swift, ceremonial killing - the killing in captivity of Danny Pearl. The video, according to one who has seen it, shows Mr Pearl speaking directly into the video camera, and saying: "I am a Jew, my mother is a Jew." Then the hand of his killer - only his hands are shown - comes into the frame and slits his throat. Like the ram and the billy goat at Eid, he is then decapitated.

It was impossible, hearing how Danny Pearl died, not to recall that this, the swiftest and yet most primitive method of execution, has over and over been the method of choice for these terrorists.

In 1995, Islamic militants in Kashmir - probably members of Harkat-ul-Mujahideen, though operating under a different name - kidnapped six western trekkers. All but two vanished without trace. Of the others, one escaped, the other was decapitated.

On IC-914, the Indian Airlines Kathmandu-Delhi flight hijacked in December 1999, one business class passenger had his throat slit and the rest of them had to watch him die. Identical executions, using box cutters, appear to have occurred on at least one of the hijacked planes deliberately crashed in the US on September 11.

It is possible that the publicising of Mr Pearl's awful murder on the eve of Eid was not deliberate, but a chance event.

But one thing seems beyond doubt: this was not kidnapping in the classic sense, taking an individual of value and holding him hostage against the payment of money or the performance of particular tasks.

The demands of the captors of Mr Pearl were never going to be conceded.

Rather this kidnapping was used to publicise what its agents regarded as a gross American injustice; and then to exact symbolic punishment against a single individual, not because he was a journalist - that merely made him catchable, it brought him within their purview - but because he was an American, and even better, an American Jew; and thus a symbolic representative of both groups the fanatics involved regard as the arch-enemy.

One of the three men held in jail in Karachi on suspicion of involvement in the kidnapping, Fahad Naseem, allegedly confessed before a Karachi judge that Omar Sheikh, the British national who is considered the brains behind the crime and who is also in custody, explained to him that Mr Pearl had been abducted because he was a "Jew working against Islam".

He confessed that he had met Omar Sheikh two days before Danny Pearl disappeared, and that Sheikh had asked him to send e-mails of the victim in captivity "when needed".

The abduction and murder of Danny Pearl bear all the scary and paradoxical hallmarks of an al-Qa'ida action: patience, guile, intelligence, capacity for planning; mastery of modern technology, including use of the internet, mobile phones, digital cameras and video; all combined with primitive and remorseless brutality.

In the course of Mr Pearl's research in Karachi he contacted sources, including a former official with ISI, Pakistan's military intelligence agency, who put him in touch with Omar Sheikh, the former public schoolboy and LSE drop-out, who had kidnapped four westerners in Delhi in 1994.

Sheikh arranged to meet Mr Pearl for coffee and club sandwiches in the city of Rawalpindi sometime in January.

Shortly before he disappeared, Danny Pearl told a Karachi businessman, Jamal Yousuf, that he had arranged to meet his contact among the extremists at Karachi's Village restaurant on the night of the 23rd.

The man who called Mr Pearl on his mobile while Mr Pearl was sitting in Jamal Yousuf's office is believed to be one Amjad Faruqi: a Harkat-ul-Mujahideen terrorist now actively being sought by the police.

It was he who promised to escort Mr Pearl for his clinching interview. It was the last rendezvous Danny Pearl was to keep. ( Independent News Service)

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