Alleged 9/11 Plotter Killed Daniel Pearl, U.S. Officials Say

The Wall Street Journal on Tuesday first reported that U.S. authorities had obtained new information showing that Mohammed, formerly al-Qaida’s top operational commander and alleged Sept. 11 mastermind, had slit Pearl’s throat with a knife.

“We do believe that he was personally responsible for killing Pearl,” a U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told news agencies. The official declined to describe the new evidence that led authorities to this conclusion.

U.S. officials later added that Mohammed, who is being held by U.S. authorities at an undisclosed location as a suspected terrorist, could be charged with Pearl’s murder at a military tribunal.

Although Mohammed has long been suspected of playing a direct role in Pearl’s kidnapping and death — and was fingered by two Pakistani defendants as the actual killer in a Pakistani court over a year ago — U.S. officials said previously they could not confirm those allegations.

“Before, we simply didn’t know, but we have now moved towards thinking that we do. Our view on the likelihood that he did it has certainly hardened,” The Washington Post quoted an unidentified U.S. official as saying.

However, three senior Pakistani officials involved in the Pearl case said Tuesday they could not confirm reports that Mohammed was Pearl’s killer.

“Many newspapers have been reporting it; we do not have evidence or credible information,” an official of the Pakistani intelligence service told news agencies on the condition of anonymity.

A senior Interior Ministry official said Pakistani investigators had questioned Mohammed about the Pearl case after he was captured in March 2003, but Mohammed never admitted to being involved in Pearl’s murder while he was in Pakistani custody. The official also spoke on condition of anonymity.

Fayyaz Leghari, a deputy inspector general of police in Karachi who led the investigation into Pearl’s death at the time, also said he was not aware of Mohammed’s involvement.

“None of the characters who were questioned by us ever mentioned the name of Khalid,” said Leghari. “His name never came up,” he added.

Pearl, 38, was the Journal’s South Asia bureau chief, when he was abducted on Jan. 23, 2002, while researching possible links between al-Qaida and other Islamic militant groups.

Four days later, the Journal and other media outlets received pictures of Pearl with a gun to his head. A group calling itself the National Movement for the Restoration of Pakistani Sovereignty claimed responsibility for the kidnapping and demanded the United States release suspected Taliban and al-Qaida operatives.

Pakistani police identified Ahmad Omar Saeed Sheikh, one of the group’s leaders, as a prime suspect in Pearl’s abduction. Sheikh was detained and told police that Pearl was dead. A Pakistani court has since sentenced Sheikh to death for his involvement in Pearl’s killing. He is appealing the verdict.

In February 2002, investigators obtained videotapes apparently showing Pearl being killed as his throat was cut by an unknown assailant. His body was found in May.

Mohammed was captured in Rawalpindi, Pakistan, on March 1. Since his detention, U.S. officials have connected him to additional al-Qaida and associated terrorist activities over the last decade. Mohammed has also provided CIA interrogators with further information about al-Qaida’s operations, according to sources cited by The Washington Post.

Pearl’s widow, Mariane, said in an interview with the Post that U.S. officials recently notified her of their new conclusion that Mohammed had personally executed her husband. She said that Mohammed should face justice, either in U.S. criminal courts or a military tribunal.

“The fact that he cooperates with the United States doesn’t mean he shouldn’t pay for his crimes,” Mariane Pearl said.

“[Mohammed’s] responsibility for 9/11 and now for Danny has been established. To me, there is no question he should be prosecuted in the United States,” she told the Post.

Mariane Pearl has published a memoir titled “A Mighty Heart: The Brave Life and Death of My Husband Danny Pearl.”

Brigitte Trafford, a spokeswoman for The Wall Street Journal, told the Associated Press, “We continue to hope that all those responsible for Danny’s kidnap and murder are brought to justice.”

Trafford added that the paper had no other comment on the investigation.