Pakistani media coverage of Daniel Pearl’s abduction and assassination in Karachi – by Kazim Aizaz Alam

by admin

American Journalist Daniel Pearl, beheaded in Karachi, Pakistan.

American journalist Daniel Pearl was killed in early 2002 in Karachi. This essay will review the coverage of the abduction and assassination of the Wall Street Journal’s South Asia bureau chief in Pakistani newspapers. It will also discuss the reasons behind the angled media coverage of Pearl’s assassination.

A brief background:

At the time of his beheading, Daniel Pearl was investigating the alleged links between Richard Reid – the “Show Bomber” – and Al Qaeda. [1]

With the help of a fixer, who was also a reporter for a local Urdu newspaper, Pearl had arranged a meeting with Sheikh Mubarak Ali Gilani, the “spiritual leader” of the “Show Bomber”. On January 23, he left for Village Restaurant in downtown Karachi. He was abducted on his way. [2] His arrest was claimed by a shady group that called itself “The National Movement for the Restoration of Pakistani Sovereignty”. The group said Pearl was a CIA agent and demanded that the United States should free all the Pakistani detainees at Guantanamo and release the withheld shipment of F-16 fighter jets to the Pakistani government.

Nine days later (February 1), Pearl was beheaded. His body was found on May 16 in 10 pieces on the outskirts of Karachi.

The videotape of his assassination was released on February 21, 2002, and was titled “The Slaughter of the Spy-Journalist, the Jew Daniel Pearl”. It was three minutes and 36 seconds long. [3]

Just before the beheading, the video shows Pearl saying: “My father’s Jewish, my mother’s Jewish, I’m Jewish. My family follows Judaism. We’ve made numerous family visits to Israel. Back in the town of Bnei Brak there is a street named after my great grandfather Chaim Pearl who is one of the founders of the town… Not knowing anything about my situation… not being able to communicate with anybody… only now do I think about some of the people in Guantanamo Bay must be in a similar situation… and I’ve come to realize that… We Americans cannot continue to bear the consequences of our government’s actions, such as the unconditional support given to the state of Israel. Twenty-four uses of the veto power to justify massacres of children. And the support for the dictatorial regimes in the Arab and left-wing world. And also the continued American military presence in Afghanistan.” [4]

Three people were arrested on charges of killing Pearl on February 6, 2002. [5] The mastermind of the plot, Omar Saeed Sheikh, surrendered to an ex-ISI official, Ijaz Shah, a retired brigadier-general of the Pakistan Army who was then the home secretary of the Punjab province, on March 5. [6]

Omar Saeed Sheikh: the mastermind behind Pearl's assassination

However, Shah kept Sheikh’s surrender secret and didn’t share the information with the police till March 12. Years later, on March 10, 2007, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, reportedly number three in the Al Qaeda hierarchy, claimed responsibility, before his Combatant Status Review Tribunal, for the murder of Daniel Pearl. He said, “I decapitated with my blessed right hand the head of the American Jew Daniel Pearl, in the city of Karachi, Pakistan.” [7]

Pearl’s Assassination and the Pakistani print media:

It wouldn’t be wrong to say that the role of the Pakistani media during, and in the aftermath of, the Daniel Pearl abduction was highly regrettable. The mainstream media portrayed Pearl as a Jewish American, affiliated with the CIA, and even Mossad, who was investigating the clandestine nuclear proliferation network of the Pakistani state. [8]

Jews are always in danger in Pakistan. That’s no secret, and the people at the Wall Street Journal, Pearl’s parents, sisters and wife knew well that his Jewish identity had to be kept secret. Till January 27, i.e. three days into Pearl’s abduction, nobody in the Pakistani media knew Pearl was Jewish. The Wall Street Journal had “made it a priority to keep Judea and Ruth Pearl [Daniel Pearl’s parents] out of view and to convince the American media not to mention Danny’s background.” [Pearl, 100]

On January 27, the front page of the largest newspaper of Pakistan, Jang, printed Pearl’s photo with an Urdu caption. It said that Pearl was suspected of being a Mossad agent and of having ‘relations’ with the Indian intelligence agency, RAW. [Pearl, 101]

This was a disaster. Not only the revelation of Pearl’s religious identity was likely to turn the public opinion against him, it could also possibly encourage his abductors to believe that he indeed was a Mossad/RAW agent.

The Pearl family was upset over this insinuation of the Pakistani press, and his wife, Mariane Pearl, noted in her book that “In this part of the world, it’s bad enough to publicly identify somebody as Jewish. To say he is a member of Israeli intelligence – of the hated Mossad – is tantamount to signing his death warrant. Not only does Arab-Israeli tension fuel the anger, but it is widely believed that Mossad has been supporting India against Pakistan in Kashmir.” [Pearl, 101]

In addition to the Jew-Mossad-CIA-RAW connection, Pearl received further bad press because of the fact that he, along with his wife, was staying in Karachi with a female friend and colleague from Wall Street Journal, Asra Q. Nomani. Nomani was an Indian-born Muslim who grew up in West Virginia. [Pearl, 7] She was staying in Pakistan to complete research on her book.

Being the South Asia bureau chief for the Wall Street Journal, Pearl was based in Mumbai, India. Staying in a house with an unmarried woman of Indian origin meant more controversy for a person of Jewish faith belonging to the United States, especially when he had been suspected of being a Mossad agent by the largest newspaper of a conservative Muslim country like Pakistan.

Writing in the January 30 edition of English-language The News, the sister publication of Jang, Pakistan’s top reporter Kamran Khan said, “Some Pakistani security officials… are privately searching for answers as to why a Jewish American reporter was exceeding ‘his limits’ to investigate Pakistani religious group [sic]. These official [sic] are also guessing, rather loudly, as to why Pearl decided to bring an Indian journalist as his full time assistant in Pakistan, Ansa [sic] Nomani, an American passport holder Indian-Muslim lady who had come from Mumbai to Karachi with Pearl, [and] was working as his full time assistant in the country. The same group of officials is also intrigued as to why an American newspaper reporter based in Mumbai would also establish a full time residence in Karachi by renting a resident [sic]. ‘An India based Jewish reporter serving a largely Jewish media organization should have known the hazards of exposing himself to radical Islamic groups, particularly those who recently got crushed under American military might,’ remarked a senior Pakistani official.” [Pearl, 147]

The duplicity of Pakistani reporters doesn’t stop here. The same Kamran Khan, who fumed over Pearl’s ‘nosiness’ and Jewish background in a Pakistani newspaper on January 30, wrote another story along with Molly Moore for The Washington Post on the same day under the headline “Kidnappers Set Elaborate Trap For Journalist.” [9]

Khan didn’t say anything about the Jewish factor or Indian connection in his Post story.

Khan’s reason for writing for Pakistani and foreign readers with different angles is not difficult to understand. While no respected foreign publication would allow virulent commentary on its pages, Pakistani reporters don’t want to lose any opportunity to win brownie points with the military either.

Writing two stories for the domestic and international media with different angles was easy to get away with in 2002 when the Internet wasn’t widely available to Pakistani readers. But with the emergence of powerful social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook and a hyperactive blogosphere in Pakistan, few mainstream journalists are now likely to succeed in playing on both sides of the fence.

In addition to trickery and deception, another factor behind the media’s lack of sympathy for Pearl was the alleged pressure from the ISI that according to many people tried to hamper independent investigations into Pearl’s murder. A case in point is Bernard-Henri Levy’s book on the subject. Levy is a French investigative reporter who wrote a 450-page book titled “Who Killed Daniel Pearl?” The book is a remarkable piece of investigative journalism. Levy’s findings are too many, and too long, to share here. But given the scope of the essay, quoting a few references to the Pakistani media from his book wouldn’t be out of place.

Levy said when he reached the office of Jang to meet journalist Hamid Mir, he was rudely told off. Although Levy had already talked to Mir and had an appointment with arguably the most influential journalist of Pakistan — who is the official biographer of Osama bin Laden and has interviewed the Al Qaeda chief before as well as after 9/11– Mir harshly accused Levy of working for western interests and refused to talk. This was in stark contrast with the polite tone of Mir on the phone just a few hours ago. Levy detailed in his book how he felt the presence of ISI spooks in the office. He asserted that within a few hours between the phone conversion and his arrival at Mir’s office, the ISI had ordered Mir not to talk to him. Hence the cold shoulder and sudden allegations of working on a foreign agenda. But on the other hand, Levy praises in the following words probably the only Pakistani journalist who bravely took up the case of Pearl: “Shaheen Sehbai, the courageous editor of the Karachi News threatened with death by the secret service for going too far on, precisely, the Pearl affair.” [Levy, 9]

Levy quotes an editorial from weekly Zarb-e-Momin, without giving the date of publication, wherein a religious leader warns the government that should the rulers give in to the “American Zionists”, the whole nation will rise up in protest. [Levy, 438]

Levy quotes another newspaper that published the “declaration” of a most senior mufti of Pakistan, Nizamuddin Shamzai, the rector of Binori Town Mosque, that condemned “treacherous non-proliferation treaties that the Zionist enemy is imposing” on Pakistan. The mufti called the likely signing of the treaty by the government an act of “high treason,” a “non-Islamic” action and “a rebellion against the commandments of almighty Allah.” [Levy, 439] Levy wonders if there is any other country in the world where a bomb has gained importance in religious terms.


There is little that suggests that the Pakistani print media (there were no private TV channels at the time) played a positive, let alone neutral, role in the Pearl case. Mariane Pearl’s utter disgust for the Pakistani media can be felt by her reaction when the crime reporter for Jang approached her for the abduction details.

“I distrust all the Pakistani press, which seems to have no tradition of objectivity or neutrality… [the crime reporter] is doing a poor job at disguising the fact that Danny’s abduction represents a real scoop for him. He intends to make his mark with this story… I see [him] turn into a vulture, with his little eyes emptied of all humanity.” [Pearl, 67-68]

Works Cited
[1] Time Magazine. On the Trail of Daniel Pearl. Deren Fonda. December 2, 2010.,8599,490640,00.html

[2] In the Line of Fire: A Memoir, Pervez Musharraf, Simon and Schuster, 2006, December 2, 2010.
[3] The Guardian. Body parts believed to be of murdered US reporter. Rory McCarthy. December 2, 2010.

[4] December 2, 2010.

[5] The Guardian. Pakistan holds three as net closes on US reporter’s kidnappers. Rory McCarthy. December 2, 2010.

[6] Wikipedia. Ijaz Shah. December 2, 2010.

[7] Jurist. Militant convicted of Pearl killing to rely on KSM Guantanamo confession on appeal. December 2, 2010.

[8] The BBC. Pearl ‘killed over secrets’. December 2, 2010.

Pearl, Mariane. A Mighty Heart:The Brave Life and Death of My Husban Danny Pearl. 1st ed. Scribner, 2003. December 2, 2010.
[9] The Washington Post. Kidnappers Set Elaborate Trap For Journalist. Kamran Khan and Molly Moore. December 2, 2010.

Levy, Bernard-Henri. Who Killed Daniel Pearl? 2nd ed. Melville House Publishing, 2003. December 2, 2010.


5 Comments to “Pakistani media coverage of Daniel Pearl’s abduction and assassination in Karachi – by Kazim Aizaz Alam”

  1. Religious Extremism destroy My country,my nation ,my Religion,my neighbor,my culture ,my current, future !

  2. Excellent post. Must be seen in the context of Hamid Mir’s audiotape (Khalid Khwaja murder) and also in the context of the publication of fake Wikileaks on India in Pakistani media.

    However, itt is not only some elements of Pakistani media (particularly Jang / The News / Geo TV and The Nation / Nawaiwaqt) who are a part and parcel of the military establishment, it is also some foreign journalist who are serving as convenient mouthpieces of the military establishment in the international arena.

    Someone needs to write on this topic.

  3. Pakistan,Richard Reid,ICTS International,Daniel Pearl and WSJ’s and Georgetown University’s Islamic Agitator Asra Nomani:

    Daniel Pearl’s supposed friend,Asra Nomani, who thinks she’s Miss Islam USA IS COVERING UP(NOT INVESTIGATING!),the death of her ‘friend’
    Daniel Pearl and as far as I can tell so is Daniel Pearl’s daddy.Neither Asra Nomani nor Judea Pearl really want Pearl’s 8 year old son to know the truth because that would expose Israelis of ICTS International that ‘guarded’ Logan Airport Boston and Newark Airport on 9/11 and who shortly later allowed Richard Reid the shoebomber to board American Airlines from DeGualle Airport Paris France with his ‘shoe bomb’ and of course more recently the Nigerian ‘crotch bomber’ to board flight 253 at the Dutch anti-Islamic politician Geert Wilder’s Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam on Christmas 2009.
    Judea Pearl and Islamic Tantric Yogi,(Asra Nomani), are part of the cover up of Pearl’s death and Judea Pearl dirties his son’s name as well by not coming clean about Richard Reid’s trip to Israel pre 9/11 that was aided by both Israel and ICTS International that allowed him to fly from Amsterdam to Israel supposedly to visit his friends at Hamas !
    If Jude Pearl were sincere in wanting to expose all involved in the death of his son regardless of where it leads or Asra Nomani were sincere in her desire to fight for women’s rights in Islamic countries both would have my sympathy.But it appears Nomani is only concerned about herself and the right wing nuts,murderers and money launderers and terrorists she protects such as U.S. government CIA connected Fox News Middle East ‘expert’ Mansoor Ijaz whose contacts in Pakistan led to Daniel Pearl’s death in the first place.And obviously Judea Pearl wants to ignore the fact Richard Reid the ’shoe bomber’ was allowed to enter Israel on El Al pre 9/11 and ICTS International’s Israeli spooks later allowed him to board at De Gualle Airport,Paris,France to fly American Airlines to the U.S. with his ‘shoe bomb’.

    – Tony Ryals

    Below Asra Nomani’s reply to my queries on the thedailybesast re Daniel Pearl,Richard Reid and ICTS International proves Asra Nomani is purposefully silent re the Israeli ICTS International’s involvement with and roe in allowing Richard Reid ‘the shoe bomber’ to board at De Gualle for the U.S.shortly after 9/11/01 even though she knows
    Daniel Pearl’s main explained reason for traveling to Pakistan in the first place was to
    investigate Richard Reid’s past trips there.:


    Dear TonyRyals,

    Honestly, I don’t really get where you’re coming from. But, sadly, I never visited Israel with Danny. I went after Danny’s murder with my family, after we had completed the hajj in Saudi Arabia. I had a gun pointed to my head as I walked through the checkpoint to get into the Dome of the Rock, where I wish all people could pray.

    It’s easy to level conspiracy theories upon others. But I would gently suggest that the truth is far often much more boring. Right now, my highest priority is figuring out how to get my son weighed in for the “ankle biter” divison of tackle football and still get to Kings Dominion with a friend on Sunday. Boring.

    I’m not part of some grand conspiracy. I agree Mansur Ijaz is an interesting character. One day, I will pick up the phone to do a reported profile on him.

    Until then, thanks for writing, Asra

    1:40 am, Sep 9, 2010

  4. IRFAN URFI,as an AMERICAN CITIZEN I must agree with your statement,’Religious Extremism destroy My country,my nation ,my Religion,my neighbor,my culture ,my current, future !”,100%.

  5. The hypocritical media

    The writer is a freelance print and broadcast journalist

    The media, more than most professions, draws charlatans to its ranks. It has always attracted enough bad apples to make industrial quantities of cider, and perhaps no more so than its proprietors. Britain’s press barons have notoriously been a rogues gallery of scoundrels. The 1930s had the Nazi-supporting Lord Rothermere owner of the Daily Mail. The 1980s saw the swindler Robert Maxwell control the Mirror Group of newspapers.

    Despite this, the worst excesses of Britain’s fourth estate have been kept in check. Partially thanks to the relative independence of media organisations such as the state-owned BBC and The Guardian, but also due to the satire boom of the 60s. It was this decade in which Private Eye, Britain’s leading satirical magazine, emerged. In the intervening years the Eye has become an important safeguard against media arrogance. It’s long running Streets of Shame column often reports the hypocrisies and downright lies of the press ahead of its rival news organisation. Private Eye went after the notoriously litigious Robert Maxwell, exposing his fraudulent business practices, long before the mainstream media dared to join the fray. After losing one libel case to Maxwell, Ian Hislop, Private Eye’s editor, famously stood by the court steps and declared: “I have just written out a very fat cheque to a very fat Czech” (Maxwell was of Czechoslovakian origin). Maxwell promptly sued Hislop again for defamation.

    Satirists such as Hislop have, over the years, brought greater transparency to the British media. In turn giving licence to the mainstream press to critique rival organisations. Sadly, in Pakistan, our media proprietors still operate under an antiquated Gentleman’s agreement: we won’t criticise your group’s failings, as long as you don’t mention ours.

    On more than one occasion I have experienced this pernicious censorship. When I was producing and writing the news satirical quiz show “News, Views, and Confused” Aaj TV gave me free reign to satirise the entire political establishment. However, they weren’t so keen on us mocking fellow media groups. One joke, that was censored, still rankles. A Jang journalist had given an unconditional apology to the Supreme Court after a story printed under his byline turned out to be incorrect. The joke went: ‘The English translation of ‘jang’ is war. And as the saying goes: Truth is always the first casualty of war.’ The joke was cut.

    More recently I singled out in a column a particular news network (Geo News) for its sensational and dehumanising coverage of the Airblue crash. The column never ran. This self-censoring is dangerous for democracy when you consider the power of news organisations. This media group has become Pakistan’s unofficial opposition, often wielding more clout than the government of the day, with its main channel setting the news agenda. Yet, we in the mainstream media only criticise and scrutinise the political class. When it comes to shining a light on our media barons and their henchmen we are mute.

    It has been left to the internet and blogosphere to fill the void. Of late, blogs such as Cafe Pyala have become essential reading for anyone who wants to understand the inner workings, foibles and the consummate superciliousness of our media class. They are bringing much needed scrutiny to an insufficiently scrutinised profession. Of course, if the media covered other media by itself, there would perhaps be no need for anonymous blogs — which are free from oversight and in many ways a poor substitute for authentic journalism.

    In a country where the director of news at one of the most influential Urdu news channels (Geo), the editor of a major English newspaper (Dawn), and the spokesman for the army are all related to each other, examination of the media is absolutely vital. An essential and healthy check on unfettered power. So the next time the media collectively screams ‘What about freedom of media?’ after some government clampdown we should all raise a sceptical eyebrow at their hypocrisy. It seems the Pakistan media like a free media except when it comes to commenting on itself.

    Published in The Express Tribune, September 22nd, 2010.

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