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Who wanted Amjad Farooqi dead?

By B Raman
Last updated on: October 01, 2004 22:11 IST
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Part I: The curious case of Amjad Farooqi

In January 2002, Daniel Pearl, the Mumbai-based India correspondent of The Wall Street Journal and his wife Marianne went to Karachi to enquire into the Pakistani links of Richard Reid, the shoe bomber.

They reportedly stayed at Karachi at the home of Asra Nomani, an American freelance journalist of subcontinental origin, who had worked for some time as a freelancer for the WSJ, where she had come to know Pearl and Marianne. She had gone to Karachi in connection with a book she was writing on the subcontinent.

Before going to Karachi, Pearl had contacted many people in Pakistan and the US in order to get introductions to people in Karachi and elsewhere who might know about Reid's local contacts.

Pearl was particularly keen to meet Mubarik Ali Shah Gilani, leader of the Jamaat-ul-Fuqra, a terrorist organisation based in the US and the Caribbean with a large following among Afro-Americans. Two of Gilani's four wives are stated to be Afro-Americans.

Pearl wanted to talk to him about Reid, since he had reportedly heard that Reid was a member of the JUF and had been trained in a Harkat-ul Mujahideen camp in Pakistan in the 1990s.

Even before coming to Karachi, Pearl was reportedly in e-mail contact with one Khalid Khwaja, a retired officer of the Pakistani Air Force who had served in the ISI in the late 1980s and one Mohammad Bashir, who later turned out to be none other than Omar Sheikh.

According to the Karachi police, Pearl was keen to meet Gilani and Omar Sheikh. Bashir promised to help him. On January 23, 2002, Pearl went by a taxi driven by one Nasir to the Metropole Hotel in Karachi. He asked the taxi to stop near the hotel and got out of it. He then went to a car parked nearby in which four persons were waiting. One of them got out, introduced himself and invited Pearl to get in. He willingly did so, and the car sped away.

Subsequently, after Omar Sheikh's arrest, Nasir identified him as the man who got out of the parked car and invited Pearl to get in. The driver testified during Sheikh's trial that from the willing manner in which Pearl got in it was apparent that he did not suspect a trap.

Sheikh sentenced to death

Subsequently, e-mail messages announcing the kidnapping of Pearl with his photographs started arriving in newspaper offices in Karachi. The Pakistani authorities launched a drive for the recovery of Pearl. There was no success.

They started searching for Omar Sheikh after finding out that it was he who, under an assumed name, had laid the trap for Pearl. They took into custody Omar Sheikh's wife and young child in order to force him to surrender. On February 5, 2002, he surrendered to Brigadier Ejaz Shah (retd), the home secretary of Punjab, who had previously worked in the ISI and was the officer who handled Sheikh.

The ISI kept him in its custody till February 12, 2002, and then handed him over to the Karachi police for interrogation. The public announcement about his arrest claimed he was arrested on February 12.

Sheikh told the police that the kidnappers operated in three groups. Omar and Muhammad Hashim Qadir alias Arif, a resident of Bhawalpur, won Pearl's confidence and made him come to the hotel for a meeting. They kidnapped him and handed him over to Amjad Hussain Farooqi for keeping him in custody.

Sheikh with the help of Adil Mohammad Sheikh, a member of the Sindh police's special branch, and his cousins Suleman Saquib and Fahad Nasim arranged for taking Pearl's photograph in custody, having it scanned and sending the e-mail with his photograph to the media and others making their demands.

According to the police, Saquib and Nasim belonged to the Jaish-e-Mohammad, thereby indicating the possibility that the kidnapping might have been jointly planned and carried out by the Harkat-ul-Jihad-Al-Islami, HuM and Jaish.

A few days later, messages arrived announcing the killing of Pearl, along with pictures showing his throat being slit. However, his body was not recovered. On May 16, 2002, the Karachi police claimed to have recovered the remains of an unidentified dead body cut into 10 pieces, which were found buried in a nursery on a plot of land in the outlying Gulshan-e-Maymar area of Karachi.

They further claimed that the remains were recovered following a tip-off from a human source.

The local media also reported that there was an improvised shed on the plot where Pearl was suspected to have been held in captivity before his murder and that the plot belonged to Al Rashid Trust of Karachi. DNA tests and other forensic examination determined that the remains were of Pearl.

The Daniel Pearl Murder Case

The Al-Rashid Trust, whose accounts were ordered to be frozen under UN Security Council Resolution 1373 because of its suspected links with Al Qaeda, is also closely linked with Jaish. Before Musharraf's ban on Jaish, the offices of the two used to be located in the same buildings in different cities of Pakistan.The two also had common cadres to undertake fundraising activities for both organisations.

Initially, it was not clear as to who gave the information to the Karachi police about the burial of these remains in a plot of land belonging to the Al Rashid Trust. Was it a human source as claimed by the police, or by some new suspects who had been picked up by the police, but whose arrest had not been shown in police records, lest the US Federal Bureau of Investigation wanted to interrogate them or sought their extradition to the US?

The answer came in a May 23, 2002 report carried by the The News, the prestigious daily of Pakistan, which revealed that the information about the remains was given to the Karachi police by one Fazal Karim -- a resident of Rahim Yar Khan and a father of five -- who was in police custody, but had not been shown as arrested.

According to the paper, Fazal Karim identified Lashkar-e-Jhangvi's Naeem Bukhari as the leader of the group that also included 'three Yemeni-Balochs' (father Yemeni and mother Baloch) who took part in Pearl's kidnapping, his murder and disposal of his body parts.

Naeem Bukhari was wanted by the police in Punjab and Karachi in more than a dozen cases of anti-Shia killings. Fazal Karim reportedly confirmed Omar Sheikh's role in planning Pearl's kidnapping.

According to Karachi police sources, Amjad Farooqi was also taken into custody on the basis of the tip-off from Fazal Karim, but the ISI ordered them to release him and let him go.

Fazal Karim reportedly named one of the Yemeni-Balochs involved in the beheading of Pearl as KSM, but the military regime did not admit this. On the basis of his information, the police also rounded up some others involved in the kidnapping and murder.

Intriguingly, on May 14, 2002, two days before the recovery of the remains of Pearl's body by the Karachi police, the Punjab police claimed that Riaz Basra, a long absconding leader of the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, the militant wing of the anti-Shia Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan in which Amjad Farooqi had started his career as a terrorist, and three of his associates were killed in an encounter in a Punjab village when they had gone there to kill a Shia leader.

Sections of the Pakistani media expressed doubts over the police version and alleged that Riaz Basra was in the ISI's informal custody since Pearl's kidnapping in January 2002, without it taking any action against him and that the police, for reasons not clear, had shown him as having been killed in an encounter.

During the trial of Omar Sheikh and his associates, the defence lawyers drew the attention of the anti-terrorism court to media reports about the arrest of Fazal Karim and others and urged that the court should order a re-investigation of the case in order to determine their responsibility for the offence.

The prosecution described the media reports as baseless and opposed any re-investigation. The court rejected the defence plea. The court sentenced Omar Sheikh to death and others to various terms of imprisonment. The appeal against the death sentence filed by Omar Sheikh has not been disposed of by the court so far under some pretext or the other.

In the meanwhile, Khalid Sheikh Mohammad -- the alleged mastermind of the 9/11 attacks -- was arrested in Rawalpindi by the Pakistani authorities in March 2003, and handed over to the FBI, which had him flown out of the country.

The curious case of Khalid Sheikh

In an article written in Salon, the online journal, in October  2003, Asra Nomani, the freelance journalist in whose Karachi home Pearl and his wife had stayed, said Marianne had been informed by the US intelligence that Mohammad had admitted having personally killed Pearl.

Omar Sheikh's defence lawyers again raised the question of a re-investigation, but their plea was again opposed by the prosecution and rejected by the court. In December 2003, there were two unsuccessful attempts to kill General Musharraf in Rawalpindi with explosives.

In the second incident, suicide bombers were involved. There were strong indications of the involvement of insiders from the Pakistani army and police in both incidents. Till June this year, Musharraf blamed Jaish for the attempts just as he had initially blamed it in 2002 for the kidnapping and murder of Pearl.

Subsequent investigations revealed that it was the HuJI and not Jaish, which was involved. Of all the pro-bin Laden jihadi organisations in Pakistan, the HuJI has the largest following in the army.

The investigation into Pearl's kidnapping and murder had also brought out indications of a possible HuJI penetration into the air force.

By the end of January this year, the investigators had started gathering evidence of the involvement of junior army and air force officers belonging to the HuJI and Hizbut Tahreer in the two assassination attempts, which, according to them, were orchestrated by Amjad Farooqi at the instance of the Libyan. However, Musharraf did not openly admit this.

On June 10, the corps commander of Karachi narrowly escaped an assassination attempt in Karachi. With the help of a mobile phone, which the terrorists had left behind at the scene, the Karachi police established that the attempt was jointly organised by the HuJI and a new organisation called Jundullah (Army of Allah), which had been trained by the Uzbeks and Chechens in the South Waziristan area of the Federally-Administered Tribal Areas of Pakistan.

The police identified and rounded up Jundullah members involved in the incident. During their interrogation, they reportedly admitted their involvement and said they were acting under the leadership of Amjad Farooqi. The police kept the arrest and interrogation of the Jundullah members a secret lest Amjad Farooqi be alerted before they got him.

But Sheikh Rashid, the information minister, prematurely announced it to the media, thereby alerting Amjad Farooqi before the police could arrest him. He managed to escape from his Karachi hideout and fled to Nawabshah.

For the first time, Musharraf admitted in an interview to a television channel in June, the involvement of junior army and air force officers in the plot against him and the role of Amjad Farooqi and the Libyan in the plot. A manhunt for Farooqi and the Libyan was launched by the police.

Before they could get Farooqi alive, someone in the military-intelligence establishment would seem to have ensured that he would not be captured alive. 

Who is that somebody?

On August 6, Qari Saifullah Akhtar, the amir of the HuJI, was picked up by the Dubai authorities and handed over to the Pakistani authorities, who had him flown to Pakistan the next day. The results of his interrogation are not known so far.

After the suicide bomb attack in Karachi on May 8, 2002,which killed 11 French experts working in a submarine project, Khaled Ahmed, the well-known Pakistani analyst, had written an article titled 'The Biggest Militia We Know Nothing About' in the prestigious Friday Times of Lahore, where he detailed the HuJI and its activities.

One of the most mysterious aspects of the activities of the jihadi organisations in Pakistan is why Musharraf has always been reluctant to or even afraid of taking action against the HuJI.

He has avoided banning it even after evidence of its penetration into the army and the air force and its involvement in the plots against him.


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B Raman