I am one of those still living who has most extensively investigated the abduction and decapitation, in February 2002, of your fellow American, Wall Street Journal journalist Daniel Pearl.
After the killing, I conducted research and interviews in Islamabad, Karachi, Lahore, and Peshawar, which led the 2003 publication of my book Who Killed Daniel Pearl?
In it I gave the name of the man who held the knife, four years before his confession in a special court in Guantanamo: Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who was al-Qaida’s No.3 man and the probable architect of the Sept. 11 attacks.
But, above all, I retraced in detail the machinations that drew Pearl to the Akbar Hotel in Rawalpindi; that lured and deceived him through a series of emails promising him an interview with Mubarak Ali Gilani, leader of the Jamaat ul-Fuqra and one of the inspirations for the founding of al-Qaida; and that finally led him, deep into Karachi’s Gulzar-e-Hijri neighborhood, to an isolated house in which Fazal Karim, Naeem Bukhari, and others were waiting to murder him.
I arrived, then, at the firm conclusion that the brain behind the operation, the man who conceived it with an almost diabolical zeal, the one who served as the link between the various jihadist factions that cooperated to pull it off, was Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh, a British Pakistani who was immediately arrested, convicted, and imprisoned.
Moreover, I adduced proof that this man, Omar Sheikh, was no ordinary criminal but rather an influential member of a galaxy of terrorist organizations that gravitated around al-Qaida. Educated at the London School of Economics, he had been Osama bin Laden’s financial adviser and bin Laden referred to him as his “favorite son.”
- Newsline, April 2005 (COURTESY BERNARD-HENRI LÉVY)
And, finally, I will say that, because history often mocks us even at its most horrifying point, Sheikh paid homage to my work in a terrible and paradoxical way in his 2005 interview from prison with Massoud Ansari of the Pakistani magazine Newsline: “You can find details on my background in Who Killed Daniel Pearl?,” he told Ansari.“The book retraces my entire existence. The references are mostly negative, but Lévy did a huge amount of research.” (Read a facsimile of the printed interview here.)
All of this is to say, Mr. President, that the announcement by Pakistan’s Supreme Court, on Jan. 28, that “no offense” could be held against Omar Sheikh and that he and his accomplices should be “immediately released” is, of course, an insult to Pearl’s memory and spit in the face of his family—especially his son, Adam, who was born just a few months after his father’s death. It is clearly another threat leveled at the courageous journalists who work in the most inhospitable places on earth. But, above all, it is such a towering judicial absurdity, such a rank insult to the most well-established truths, and such a clear contradiction of the criminal’s own confessions and of common sense that it must also be viewed as a provocation addressed at your country and, coming as it does at the beginning of your term, at yourself.
Granted, this is not the first time the Pakistani regime has acted in this way.
Corrupted by intelligence services that are themselves infiltrated by terrorist groups, and constantly falling back on its position as a key “strategic ally,” the regime is a past master of a double game that always features some version of the following claim: “We have to throw a bone now and then to a citizenry whipped into a frenzy by the tenets of political Islam; help us keep them at bay lest they be moved to dangerous acts.”
According to my sources, that is, more or less, the message the regime was sending as recently as last April, when, during your predecessor’s term, the high court of Sindh province commuted the sentences of Omar and his accomplices to seven years (covered by the 18 years of preventive detention already served), without the American secretary of state, the attorney general, or President Donald Trump himself summoning the resolve to express anything more than their “deep concern.”
And I am familiar enough with the methods of this gangster state to know that, when it agrees to discuss, reconsider, and ultimately reverse a court sentence or hand over one or another al-Qaida or ISIS militant who had been spending quiet days in a residential neighborhood of Rawalpindi or in a village in the tribal areas bordering Afghanistan, the decision always comes as part of a negotiation that yields, as if by chance, a delivery of F-16s, a bilateral trade accord, or a loan.