LAHORE: The newly-appointed acting al-Qaeda head Saif Al-Adal was the chief architect of the 2002 abduction of American journalist Daniel Pearl from Karachi who was later slaughtered by Khaled Sheikh Mohammad, the brain behind the 9/11 terror attacks.
Once a Special Forces officer in the Egyptian Army and now a close confidant of Osama’s No. 2, Dr Ayman Al-Zawahiri, Saif Al-Adal is the nom de guerre of a former Egyptian Army Colonel Mohammad Ibrahim Makkawi who currently spearheads al-Qaeda from his North Waziristan hide out. His role in the Pearl episode was unearthed in a fresh investigation, conducted by ‘The Pearl Project’ and published in January 2011 by Washington-based ‘Center for Public Integrity.’
The findings of the investigation report, titled “The Truth Left Behind: Inside the kidnapping and murder of Daniel Pearl,” endorsed the March 2007 confession of al-Qaeda’s former chief operational commander and the 9/11 mastermind, Khaled Sheikh Mohammad, to having slaughtered Pearl. Khaled was finally arrested from the garrison town of Rawalpindi in March 2003 and handed over to the United States.
Led by former Wall Street Journal reporter Asra Nomani and the director of the Georgetown University’s Journalism Department Barbara Feinman Todd, a team of 32 American researchers had investigated the complex web of militants who orchestrated and carried out the plot that culminated in Pearl’s gruesome death. Saif Al-Adal had in fact tasked some Pakistani militants, led by Sheikh Ahmed Omar Saeed, to kidnap Pearl who at that time was investigating the link between al-Qaeda and the American ‘shoe bomber’ Richard Reid. Saif had significant clout at the time not only in al-Qaeda, but also in some key Pakistani militant circles.
According to findings of ‘The Pearl Project’, it was Saif Al-Adal who set Pearl’s murder in motion by ordering Khaled Sheikh to take the abducted journalist off the hands of the Pakistani militants who were keeping him at an isolated plot in Karachi.
As per the investigation report, “The Truth Left Behind: Inside the kidnapping and murder of Daniel Pearl,” Saif felt that Daniel Pearl represented a propaganda opportunity for al-Qaeda, and may have sought the killing of a ‘Jewish-American journalist’ as a means to raise the profile of the terrorist outfit.
However, Osama bin Laden was angry that the gruesome slaying brought needless attention to the al-Qaeda network. Yet the researchers who had investigated the Pearl murder for three years before finalizing their report were still unsure at the time whether Saif Al-Adal had in fact ordered al-Qaeda to kill Pearl. But the role he had played was confirmed in April 2011 when Wikileaks released its Guantanamo documents, indicating that Saif actually advised against killing Pearl.
According to Khaled Sheikh Mohammad’s Guantanamo file, Saif al-Adal told him that it would not be wise to murder Daniel Pearl and recommended that the abducted American journalist be returned back to one of the previous militant groups who held him, or freed. At this point it was too late - Khaled Sheikh said that he sought the advice of another important al-Qaeda leader, Sharif al-Masri, who was the chief financial officer of the organization. Sheikh and Masri disagreed with Saif Al-Adal on what to do with Daniel Pearl, with Khaled Sheikh ultimately siding with Masri.
Having decided to kill Pearl, Khaled Sheikh went across town to the Karachi compound where the abducted American journalist was being held. Khaled carried a bag filled with important tools for his bloody work: a butcher’s knife and a video camera. Within hours, Pearl was dead at Sheikh’s hands. Within weeks, one of the Pakistani foot soldiers who held Pearl down, Fazal Karim, a member of Harkatul Mujahideen, handed a propaganda video showing the gruesome murder to a Pakistani courier, who delivered it soon after to an FBI agent in the marble lobby of the Karachi Sheraton.
Having been arrested from Pakistan and handed over to the FBI, Khaled Sheikh Mohammad later confessed at Guantanamo Bay to have personally slit Pearl’s throat and decapitated him. Khaled Sheikh told FBI agents that he had a purpose in the Pearl killing: “I wanted to make sure I got the death penalty if the US caught him,” and so he wanted blood on his hands.
Yet the Guantanamo Bay documents released by the Wikileaks too concluded that Pearl’s murder could not have been materialized without the original intervention of Saif Al-Adal, who will now be spearheading al-Qaeda as its interim chief following the May 2, 2011 killing of Osama bin Laden by American commandos in Pakistan.