Omar gives inside account of Pearl’s abduction | Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF)

Pakistan Press Foundation

Omar gives inside account of Pearl’s abduction

KARACHI- While President Pervez Musharraf was telling a White House press corps that he was “reasonably sure that Daniel Pearl is still alive” and “We are as close as possible to getting him released”, on Wednesday, Pakistani investigators had hit a new dead-end in their investigation coupled with fresh indications that the Wall Street Journal reporter may not be alive, officials familiar with the investigation into Daniel abduction case disclosed. More than 12 hours before stunning the country with his “I kidnapped Daniel Pearl” remarks, during the court proceedings in Karachi on Thursday morning, Shaikh Omar Saeed, the chief suspect in the Daniel Pearl kidnapping case, had informed police investigators his reasons to believe that by now Daniel may not be alive, well-informed officials said.

Several police investigators are intrigued about the origin of the previous statement from police in which Omar had been quoted as revealing that Daniel was alive. “To the best of my knowledge Omar had never made such a statement, from the beginning he was doubtful about Daniel’s safety,” an informed official observed.

A ranking Pakistani official said that while Omar’s interrogation and supporting evidence were breaking the police hopes of resolving the mysterious kidnapping saga, uninterrupted encouraging reports were being sent from Islamabad to President Musharraf in Washington. “Hyder told me: ‘Abbaji Ka Intiqal Ho Gaya Hai’ (Dad has expired)” Omar told his police investigators, narrating the response of the man, Omar identified as Hyder — the man responsible for keeping Daniel at a secret location.

Omar said that he had received that answer from Hyder, when he phoned him on February 5, to suggest that “Daniel may now be released as our cause have received reasonable media projection”. Omar revealed that “shift the patient to the doctor” was the code agreed with Hyder to set Daniel free.

Despite an interrogation and voluntary statements from Omar Shaikh, police investigators still have no clue about the group or individuals, who may have used Shaikh Omar and other known and unknown accomplices in staging the kidnapped that is now been seen as a challenge to General Musharraf’s resolve to free Pakistan from religious extremism. Omar said before he called Hyder on February 5, he had received an information in Lahore from “one of his sources” that Daniel was shot down, while trying to escape from Hyder’s custody on or around January 31.

Omar said that several other persons along with Hyder were holding Daniel at an undisclosed location in Karachi. “There is no reason for Hyder to tell me a lie on Daniel. I can trust him with my life,” Omar said.

Giving background of Omar’s trust over Hyder a senior police investigator disclosed that after intense investigation, they have successfully discovered that the actual identity of Hyder or Imtiaz Siddiqi is Mansur Hasnain and they have reasons to believe that the same person was also involved in the hijacking of Indian airlines flight IC-814. As a result of that hijacking, in the end of December 1999, Maulana Masud Azhar, Sheikh Omar Saeed and Ibrahim Zargar were swapped by the Indian government with 180 Indian passengers at Kandahar airport in Afghanistan.

While Masud had a high profile return back to Pakistan to establish Jaish-e-Muhammad, Omar preferred a low key but an influential role in Jaish activities. “Because of that event Sheikh Omar owes his life to Mansur Hasnain alias Hyder alias Imtiaz Siddiqi,” the police investigator said.

Police officials have confirmed that they have raided Hasnain’s residence in Toba Tek Singh district of Punjab and some of his relatives have also been detained by the Punjab police. Omar has also provided police a graphic account of his involvement in laying a trap for Daniel, who was introduced to him by Hashim Qadir alias Arif — a Jihadi activist wanted by the police. Hashim’s family had told police two weeks ago that he had died, while fighting the US troops in Afghanistan. Sheikh Omar, a senior investigator said, obliged his interrogators by revealing that Hashim was still alive and he had spoken to him by his cell phone on January 31.

Six-feet-two-inch tall Sheikh Omar said that he had arranged an undercover meeting with Daniel in the room 114 of Akbar International Hotel in Rawalpindi. “It was a great meeting, we ordered cold coffee and club sandwiches and had great chit-chat,” Omar said, while giving an account of his first meeting with Daniel. “We had nothing personal against Daniel, because of his hyperactivity he caught our interest,” said Omar, who claimed that he was most angry on hearing news about forced shaving of beards of Muslim prisoners by American soldiers and the inhuman treatment of these prisoners in Guantanamo Bay in Cuba.

Interestingly, Omar said that he shaved his beard and changed his look by wearing dark glasses to meet Daniel Pearl in January. According to Sheikh Omar’s account, his personal role in the case was restricted to planning and winning Daniel’s trust, while the execution was carried out by Hyder, who is known to the police investigators as Imtiaz Siddiqi — the man who had made the final few phone calls to Danny Pearl on his cell phone. Omar told Police that he had drafted the two e-mails and taken Daniel’s pictures from a digital camera arranged by Fahad Nasim just after the reporter’s abduction in Karachi on January 23.

He showered tremendous praise on Shaikh Adil and Salam, his co-accused in the case, by reminding their bravery in Afghanistan and other secret operations. “They are the true Mujahideen of Islam,” Omar said. He didn’t know Fahad Nasim but he said: “Fahad was driven by religious zeal in agreeing to help us”.

Sheikh Omar said that his decision to turn himself over to non-police officials was entirely due to the harassment caused to his family by the Punjab police. On February 5, Omar told his investigators, he turned himself over to Brigadier (retd) Ejaz Shah, the home secretary of Punjab, who took him to some non-police officials, who decided to hold back the announcement of his surrender till President Musharraf reached Washington on February 12.

Sheikh Omar said that he had a brief introduction with Pir Mubarak Gilani, when he took first guerrilla training near Garhi Habibullah in North West Frontier Province (NWFP). While maintaining that Gilani had no role in Daniel’s kidnapping, Omar praised Gilani for his unexplained services to Pakistan and Islam.

Pearl, 38, a South Asia correspondent for the Journal, had been probing ties between Pakistani Islamic groups and Richard C Reid, who has been charged with trying to blow up an American airliner en route to Miami from Paris last month, according to the police. Pearl was also attempting to trace e-mails sent to Reid from Internet cafes in Karachi, investigators said.

While Omar didn’t hesitate for a minute in providing the police an explicit account of his involvement in the Daniel’s abduction, police investigators were surprised that he was not prepared to give any details about his week-long negotiations in Punjab with non-police officials. “I know people in the government and they know me and my work, but it was not a factor in Daniel’s kidnapping or my decision to turn myself over to the authorities,” Omar said.

Nevertheless, officials who quizzed Omar — now one of the most celebrated Jihadis in Pakistan — recently said they were surprised by his confidence that it is just a matter of time before he will be out again to resume his Jihadi struggle. He apparently won the hearts of his interrogators by insisting that he had devoted his life to Pakistan and Islam and he had faced the worst physical torture at the hands of Indian secret services agents, during his five-year long detention in Indian prisons. “I know whatever you do while interrogating me but you can’t be as cruel as Hindu policemen were with me in India.” Omar told his interrogator: “You are my Pakistani and Muslim brother, how can you torture me.”

Omar has told his interrogators that he “would not ignore any filthy language or abuses, during the interrogation”, when a deputy superintendent of Police (DSP) tried to test his patience, during an interrogation session on Wednesday night. Omar jumped from his chair and tried to physically assault his interrogator. “He was later subdued through sheer pep talk,” informed an official, who was present on the occasion.

Police officials and other legal experts said that Omar’s confessional remarks, during his remand proceedings at the Anti-Terrorist Court in Karachi had no legal merit since this was not on oath as for every confessional statement written notification is made to the accused to inform him about the legal repercussions of such a statement.

The Advocate-General of Sindh, Raja Qureshi, who was representing the state, during the court proceedings said the remanding judge had nothing to do with Omar’s statement, as this was not the forum for confessional statements as such statements could only be made before investigating agency and that was, too, before a magistrate.

Source: The News