New details on kidnapping and murder of reporter Daniel Pearl

Twenty-seven men were allegedly involved in the kidnapping and murder of Wall Street Journal Bureau Chief Daniel Pearl, but only four have been charged and convicted. Fourteen others who were allegedly part of the conspiracy remain free. Those are some of the important conclusions of The Pearl Project, a three-year investigation into the story behind the infamous crime. The report comes near the 9th anniversary of Pearl’s abduction in Karachi, Pakistan, on Jan. 23, 2002.

Led by former Wall Street Journal reporter Asra Q. Nomani and Georgetown University Journalism Director Barbara Feinman Todd, a team of 32 students investigated the complex web of militants who orchestrated and carried out the plot that culminated in Pearl’s gruesome death.

“The Pearl Project reveals that justice was not served for Danny,” said Nomani. “We couldn’t save him, but we have uncovered the truth left behind. Through his death, Danny teaches us important lessons about the reality on the ground in Pakistan regarding militancy, Islamic extremism and terrorism.”

Among the findings:

  • Doubts regarding 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed’s (KSM) confession during “waterboarding” were eased when FBI agents and CIA officials used a technique called vein-matching to compare the hand of the killer in the murder video with a photo of Mohammed’s hand.
  • The report includes exclusive details from KSM’s interview in Guantanamo with FBI agents. KSM told FBI agents that he got a call to take over the kidnapping operation from al-Qaeda operative Saif el-Adel. KSM said 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.” 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 aide, who is incarcerated in Guantanamo Bay
  • After 9/11, KSM designated his young nephew, Ali Abdul Aziz Ali, to be the facilitator for “shoe bomber” Richard Reid. When he was kidnapped, Pearl was chasing a story that a cleric, Sheik Mubarak Ali Shah Gilani, was the facilitator. He wasn’t. Reid was an Al Qaeda operative.
  • Almost half of those implicated in Pearl’s abduction-murder — 14 men with some alleged involvement — are thought to remain free. The list includes guards, drivers, and fixers tied to the conspiracy.
  • In their haste to close the case, Pakistani authorities knowingly used perjured testimony to pin the actual act of murder on Omar Sheikh, the mastermind of the operation, and his three co-conspirators. While the four were involved in the kidnapping plan and certainly were culpable, they were not present when Pearl was murdered. Others, who were present and actually assisted in the beheading, were not charged.
  • Omar Sheikh, who orchestrated the kidnapping plot, had contemplated bargaining over ransom demands for Pearl’s freedom, but that possibility faded when it became known that Pearl was Jewish and when Al Qaida operatives took charge of him.

The Truth Left Behind: Inside the Kidnapping and Murder of Daniel Pearl was an investigation conducted by the Pearl Project and sponsored by Georgetown University and the Center for Public Integrity’s International Consortium of Investigative Journalists. The Pearl Project was funded by grants from the Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation.

Read the full investigation

“Pearl’s sad fate is well known, but details about the many players who perpetrated the crime have been shrouded – until now,” said William E. Buzenberg, executive director of the Center for Public Integrity. “This is outstanding investigative reporting.”

EEJF President Robert J. Ross said: “Our country relies on journalists such as Danny Pearl to give us the truth about what is going on in a war zone. We know he and many other journalists put their lives on the line every day and we are pleased to support the efforts to find out the truth about what happened to Danny. At EEJF, we promote accurate and credible investigative journalism and this project has certainly met all of our expectations.”

About The Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation

The Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation’s mission is to invest in the future of journalism by building the ethics, skills and opportunities needed to advance principled, probing news and information. EEJF does so through contributions to media institutions and journalism schools nationwide, primarily in areas of investigative reporting, youth education, professional development, and special opportunities.

The Pearl Project

The Pearl Project is a faculty-student investigative reporting project at Georgetown University. Started in 2007, the project began with the investigation into the kidnapping and murder of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl. It has conducted another investigation into media and human rights issues in the Democratic Republic of Congo.