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WSJ Reporter Daniel Pearl Confirmed Dead

February 21, 2002 at 12:00 AM EDT


TERENCE SMITH: The 38-year-old Daniel Pearl was on assignment in Pakistan, where he was investigating connections between Muslim militants and the Sept. 11 attacks.

Based in Bombay, India, Pearl had been with The Wall Street Journal for a dozen years, reporting from the United States, Europe and Asia.

He is married, and his wife, Marianne, is pregnant with their first child. After he was kidnapped a month ago, Pearl’s captors released pictures of him and demanded money and the release of Pakistani prisoners in exchange for his freedom.

Late today, Pearl’s family said in a statement that it was, “shocked and saddened by the confirmation that our worst fears have been realized.”

For more, we’re joined by Felicity Barringer, media reporter for The New York Times.

Felicity, what can you tell us about what has been learned about his death, how it was confirmed finally after this long time?

FELICITY BARRINGER: Well, Terry, we’re still in early days here, early moments in terms of saying anything for certain about what police know, but it seems pretty clear that something was… is in the hands of Pakistani police and the FBI that lead them to believe without a doubt that Danny Pearl is dead.

TERENCE SMITH: In fact there are wire reports from Karachi of a videotape — is that correct — that the Pakistani authorities supposedly have in their possession, which confirms it?

FELICITY BARRINGER: I’ve heard similar reports. I have not confirmed those reports.

TERENCE SMITH: Is there any sense that the Pakistani authorities were making progress on this case, closing in on his kidnappers before this confirmation?

FELICITY BARRINGER: I think the strong sense in the last week has been of an investigation that seemed somewhat adrift.

There had been promises and statements made in the early weeks and days after his disappearance that indicated they were on the verge of finding him, they were on the verge of major breaks in the investigation.

Those statements were completely absent in the last week. It seemed like they were adrift.

TERENCE SMITH: And in fact a couple of weeks ago they arrested someone who was described as a key suspect in this — and yet not much progress after that.

FELICITY BARRINGER: There was much talk about how important this gentleman was, Omar Sheik, and after he was in custody– and I think he had been in custody for some days before they said that they actually had him in custody — it turned out that while he was admittedly involved in enticing Daniel Pearl into the kidnapping, he said he did not know where he was at that time.

It seemed as if there might be two different cells of the kidnappers and what they had was the people from one cell but not from the second.

TERENCE SMITH: What is known now, Felicity, about the identity of Daniel Pearl’s kidnappers?

FELICITY BARRINGER: Beyond the people who have been arrested already who seem to have ties to Pakistani Islamic fundamentalist groups not much more is known, but there are two groups that have been identified particularly… I may pronounce this wrong but…. Jaish-e-Mohammed.

TERENCE SMITH: Is there a suggestion, has there been that Daniel Pearl was getting unusually close to some information about Muslim militant groups and their connection to al-Qaida and the Sept. 11 attacks that might have caused this kidnapping?

FELICITY BARRINGER: I think it’s very hard to know that, Terry. It is pretty clear that they wanted Daniel Pearl to believe that he was on the trail of some good information and he clearly did believe that, which is why he followed through with the meeting following which he disappeared.

It is not clear to me how much of that information that he had leading up to that moment was good information and how much of it was designed to lure him in.

TERENCE SMITH: Was there any explanation of the sort of gap between the demands that they made and the fact that this was a newspaper reporter not a government official or someone like that — in other words demands for the release of Pakistani prisoners, things that clearly The Wall Street Journal could not bring about?

FELICITY BARRINGER: It’s really unclear to me if they ever felt that there was any hope of getting any of those demands realized or if his kidnapping and his subsequent murder were simply a method of getting publicity for their point of view.

TERENCE SMITH: And is there any impact so far that you know of that you’ve been able to discern on the reporting from the region?

What about the other U.S. reporters that are in Pakistan now?

FELICITY BARRINGER: Well certainly there’s several network correspondents who have been in Karachi pretty much since the kidnapping was reported.

We have correspondents or at least one correspondent in Islamabad and have had others there in the weeks since then. The wire services, I know the AP, has somebody in Karachi. So there’s been aggressive reporting of this. I think all reporters there are taking the care you would expect them to take under the circumstances.

TERENCE SMITH: What are they doing?

FELICITY BARRINGER: I believe that there are very few reporters, if any, going to any meetings alone.

I would imagine that they’re working fairly close to their hotels or to other venues that are well protected by the Pakistani authorities.

TERENCE SMITH: And for perspective, this is a remarkable, is it even a unique development, a U.S. reporter kidnapped and subsequently killed?

FELICITY BARRINGER: It’s unique insofar as we have been able to determine.

You never want to say first, as you know in our business, but the earlier kidnappings of reporters tended to have political motive and were resolved.

The longest one, of course, was Terry Anderson, which took close to seven years to resolve.

But to have a reporter kidnapped and subsequently killed is highly, highly unusual, if not unique since World War II.

TERENCE SMITH: Is there any impact from all of this on the coverage of the aftermath of the war in Afghanistan and the war on terror as it goes forward, even if it goes to other venues?

Do you expect journalists to be covering it in the same way?

FELICITY BARRINGER: If you mean are they going to be as aggressive, I think absolutely, if not more so.

The worst thing possible would be to take some kind of message from this that we should not report as much as we can and do the best we can to bring information out about the prosecution of the war, about the people who have been involved in acts of terrorism, and about what motivates them.

Remember, Daniel Pearl was not somebody out there to sort of make a headline saying, “I’ve talked to this or that famous person.”

He wanted to understand why people did things, what motivated them, and he wanted to sort of serve as a bridge between cultures. That’s what makes his death so peculiarly terrible is he was somebody who could have well carried the message of his kidnappers had they chosen to see him in his true light.

TERENCE SMITH: Indeed it does. Felicity Barringer, thank you very much.