Revisiting A Tragedy

HBO documentary follows Daniel Pearl's path to death



Tomorrow would have been Daniel Pearl's 43rd birthday. But now the day marks the premiere of a documentary on HBO that looks at the life and grisly death of the Wall Street Journal reporter who was kidnapped and beheaded by Islamic militants in Pakistan four years ago.

The Journalist and the Jihadi: The Murder of Daniel Pearl follows the oddly parallel paths of Pearl and the man who orchestrated his kidnapping, Omar Sheikh, a Londoner of Pakistani descent. After 9/11, the men's paths intersected in Pakistan in early 2002, with tragic consequences for the American reporter.

Among the similarities noted in the film is that both Pearl and Sheikh came from privileged backgrounds, were well-educated, and were idealists in their own ways. And both hoped to change the world, but in very different ways.

The 80-minute film was produced by filmmakers Ahmed A. Jamal of Pakistan and Ramesh Sharma of India, and its narrator is CNN's Christiane Amanpour, a friend of Pearl. The filmmakers were able to gain access to many of the key figures in the reporter's kidnapping and murder, including Pakistani police and intelligence officials as well as Islamic leaders with ties to extreme religious groups, including the Taliban.

Growing up in California, Pearl was an avid athlete and musician. A classically trained violinist, he later took up the guitar and fiddle and played for a time with a group called the Cosmic Gypsies, a folk-rock jam band.

While majoring in communications at Stanford University, he developed an interest in international issues and human rights, and after a stint at a small Massachusetts newspaper, Pearl was hired by the Wall Street Journal in 1990.

By 1996 he was the Journal's Middle East correspondent, based in London and Paris. He met his future wife, Mariane, in Paris and the couple moved to India, where Pearl headed the newspaper's South Asia bureau.

He specialized in exploring Islamic culture, and his articles tried to give westerners a more nuanced understanding of the Middle East and its complex politics. His colleagues jokingly referred to him as "Danny of Arabia" because of his empathy for the plight of Muslims in the Middle East.

Meanwhile, Omar Sheikh was completing his own transformation from elite student to accomplished jihadi. Born and reared in London by middle-class parents, he attended the prestigious London School of Economics, where he studied math and economics. He was also a local chess champion and prided himself on his success in the unlikely sport of arm-wrestling.

During a mission to help Muslim refugees in Bosnia, Sheikh rubbed elbows with militants from all parts of the Islamic world, and he began to think in more anti-Western terms. Later, he received training in militant camps in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and when the U.S. responded to the attacks of 9/11, he saw that as a declaration of war against Islam.

"He was not an illiterate jihadi whose mind had been captured by the mullahs," says Jamal, one of the film's producers. "He was a very bright, Oxford-material boy, overturning the notion that education is the solution to problems of terrorism. In his case, he was a formidable terrorist precisely because he was so well-educated."

After the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Pearl began looking into the financing of the terrorist organization al-Qaeda, using the Journal's well-established investigative technique of "following the money" to get to the root of a story. He was trying to track down a religious leader called Sheikh Gillani, whom he suspected of helping to fund the 9/11 attacks.

He was lured to the Pakistani city of Karachi by Omar Sheikh, who posed as an intermediary who could help the reporter arrange an interview with Gillani. Pearl left his pregnant wife at the home of a friend and went to meet Sheikh. It was the last time he was seen publicly.

Subsequent efforts by the State Department, the FBI, and the local police to find Pearl were complicated by the fact that Pakistani intelligence agents were suspected of cooperating with the kidnappers.

Weeks later, it was confirmed that Pearl has been murdered when a gruesome videotape showing his beheading was sent to news outlets. Not long after that, Omar Sheikh and three accomplices were arrested, tried, and sentenced in Pearl's disappearance. Sheikh was sentenced to hang, and the accomplices received 25-year prison terms.

But Sheikh's sentence has yet to be carried out. He has appealed, and a hearing on the appeal has been delayed more than 30 times.

The HBO documentary carries considerable emotional impact, heightened by home movies showing Pearl as a child, interviews with his widow and other family members, and a haunting musical score, some of which consists of songs played by Pearl himself.

Much of what's in the movie has been reported earlier, but there is at least one terrible twist to the story that's not widely known.

According to those involved in the kidnapping, the initial plan had been to release Pearl after what was basically intended as a propaganda stunt. But before his release, a deal was struck with a group of Arab terrorists who essentially "bought" Pearl from his kidnappers for $50,000.

His new captors had different plans for the American journalist. They showed up at the compound where Pearl was being held with long swords and a video camera, and after forcing Pearl to record statements about his Jewish heritage, four men held him down and slaughtered him.

The man who wielded the sword is said to have been Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the mastermind behind the 9/11 attacks and the No. 3 man in al-Qaeda. He is currently in U.S. custody at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, in connection with 9/11 and other terrorist acts against the United States.

Pearl's widow, who gave birth to a son 4 1/2 months after her husband's death, has written a book about her husband called A Mighty Heart (Scribner, 288 pages, $13), which is being made into a feature film starring Angelina Jolie, and she's going on with life as best she can.

"I see happiness as an act of resistance," she says in the film. "My resistance to bitterness is my resistance to terrorism."

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Here's what I don't understand...

Why is there absolutely no mention of Omar Sheikh wire transferring $100,000 to Mohammad Atta?

"It was all about finding a way to do it. That was the tone of it. The president saying ‘Go find me a way to do this."

That tosser Brad Pitt

That tosser Brad Pitt (cockney rhyming for Shit) is in India or Pakistan making a movie about Pearl, I don't suppose there will be anything revealing. Another Al Queda Production.

Daniel Pearl Widow all smiles ...


I saw with my own eyes on CNN (wordwide version)
the WIDOW of Daneil Pearl being happy and all smiles..


She must have known ..

It was the WEIRDEST tv appearance and (this could be my fantasy) the talking-head (Clancy?) seemed disturbed, too.

Of course it could be that the VCR operator played the wrong tape ... but I am suspicious!!

In any case, this story STINKS TO HIGH HEAVEN.

Lets recap the facts:

Daniel was the CHIEF of the South-East Asia Bureaux of the
Wall Street Journal.

He lived in Bombay with his wife
In Pakistan Jan 2002 he researched shoebomber Richard Reid and was abducted.

21. Feb 2002 a video shows his killing

His mother, an Iraqi Jew..