WASHINGTON – American authorities investigating the killing in Pakistan of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl now believe his throat was slit by Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, alleged mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks.
Authorities, who had previously cast doubt on reports alleging Mohammed’s role, have new information that leads them to believe he killed Pearl, said a U.S. official who spoke on condition of anonymity. The official would not detail the evidence.
However, three senior Pakistani officials involved in the Pearl case said Tuesday they could not confirm suspicions that Mohammed was Pearl’s killer. There had been suspicions in Pakistan that Mohammed was involved in Pearl’s kidnapping and murder last year and may even have killed the correspondent.
“Many newspapers have been reporting it. We do not have evidence or credible information,” said an official with the Pakistani intelligence service, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
A senior Interior Ministry official said Pakistani investigators had questioned Mohammed about the Pearl case after his capture in March 2003, but while in Pakistani custody he never acknowledged a role in the killing. The official also spoke on the condition of anonymity.
A deputy inspector general of police in Karachi, Fayyaz Leghari, who was in charge of the investigation into Pearl’s death at the time, also said he was not aware of Mohammed’s involvement. “His name never came up,” Leghari said.
Investigators obtained videotapes that apparently showed Pearl being killed as his throat was cut, but it was unclear from the pictures who killed him. Additional footage showed his body being decapitated. His body was found in May last year.
Mohammed was captured in Rawalpindi, Pakistan, on March 1. The CIA is interrogating him at an undisclosed location. He is believed to have been among al-Qaida’s most senior, and successful, operational masterminds.
Since his detention, U.S. officials have connected him increasingly to activities over the last decade by al-Qaida and associated groups. He always has been portrayed as a mastermind, planner and financier, not one taking a direct hand in murder or other operations.
Pearl, the Journal’s South Asia bureau chief, was abducted Jan. 23, 2002, while working on a story about Islamic militants in Karachi.
Four days later, the Journal and other media outlets received pictures of Pearl with a pistol to his head. A group calling itself the National Movement for the Restoration of Pakistani Sovereignty claimed responsibility for the kidnapping and demanded that suspected Taliban and al-Qaida fighters be released from U.S. custody.
In early February, Pakistani police identified Ahmad Omar Saeed Sheikh, an Islamic militant with a history of kidnapping foreigners, as a prime suspect in luring Pearl to his abduction. After Saeed’s capture, he said Pearl was dead.
The British-born Saeed and three co-defendants denied involvement and accused the government of fabricating the case to appease the United States. Saeed admitted a role in the kidnapping during his initial court appearance the month after Pearl’s death but later recanted.
A Pakistani court sentenced him to death. He is appealing. Three other defendants – Fahad Naseem, Salman Saqib and Sheikh Mohammed Adeel – were given life sentences. Those cases also are on appeal. Their ties to Khalid Shaikh Mohammed are unclear.
Some accounts indicate others handled Pearl’s killing.
U.S. acknowledgment of Mohammed’s suspected role was first reported Tuesday in The Wall Street Journal.
“We continue to hope that all those responsible for Danny’s kidnap and murder are brought to justice,” said Brigitte Trafford, a spokeswoman for the Journal, who said the paper had no other comment on the investigation.
Pearl’s widow, Mariane, author of a memoir titled A Mighty Heart: The Brave Life and Death of My Husband Danny Pearl, said through her publisher that she had no comment.