From Britain to Bosnia, Pakistani's anti-US hatred grew
The man accused of orchestrating the murder of Daniel Pearl goes on trial today.
ISLAMABAD — Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh, the man accused of killing Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, was working for a Muslim aid organization in Bosnia in 1992 when he went through a revolutionary change.
It was there that he saw the maimed body of a 13-year old Muslim girl who had been raped and murdered.
"That was a turning point, and he decided to stand up and fight for oppressed Muslims around the globe, and he developed an extreme hated for the United States. He believes it to be largely responsible for their plight," says one of Mr. Omar's Pakistani interrogators, who says Omar trembles at the memory of the Muslim girl. "His activities afterward made him an Islamic psychopath willing to go to any extent in a crusade against American interests and perpetrators of atrocities on Muslims in the world," says the interrogator.
During his two months in Bosnia, Omar met with Pakistanis from Harkat al-Ansar, an Islamic terrorist group. This is where his thinking shifted. He went from a moderate Islamic believer to a proponent of militant Islam, say interrogators. They also says Omar was deeply influenced by Samuel P. Huntington's book "The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order."
As today's closed-door trial of the 29-year old Omar begins in Karachi, interrogators paint a vivid and at times bizarre picture of a man they describe as both a bookworm who liked to raise rabbits and a savage terrorist.
Reared in Britain by a wealthy and deeply religious Pakistani family, his father encouraged him to support Islamic causes. Omar was young and brash, telling interrogators how he represented his British school in an arm-wrestling competition in the US. He also boasted that he's a good chess player and has tried his hand at boxing. After spending his youth in Britain, Omar moved to Pakistan in the late 1980s and enrolled in the elite Aitchison School in Lahore. He studied there for a few years before being expelled for misconduct.
Omar joined the Harkat Jihad-e Islami in 1993, a splinter group of militant Harkat al-Ansar group.
"I chose the Harkat Jihad-e Islami because it was composed of sincere, dedicated Muslims working for the glory of Islam and had several meetings with Taliban leaders and Osama bin Laden inside Afghanistan," he told interrogators, referring to the time he spent training in Afghanistan.
Omar soon traveled to India where he told interrogators that he was actively involved in the bloody Muslim separatist movement in Kashmir.
He says he kidnapped wealthy Indians and extorted money from them to fund Kashmiri rebels. In 1994, Omar staged the abduction of three Westerners, including an American tourist in New Delhi, but was injured and caught.
India freed Omar in December 1999 at Kandahar in then-Taliban-ruled Afghanistan, where he was taken as part of an exchange for hostages aboard a hijacked Indian commercial airliner.
Omar's father, who owns a clothing business in Britain and prime real estate in Lahore, says his son is innocent and a kind-hearted man.
"He once saved the life of a woman who had fallen on a railway track in Britain at the risk of his own life. He cannot murder anyone," a Pakistani newspaper recently quoted his father as saying.
Omar has reportedly confessed that he was responsible for the kidnapping of Mr. Pearl.
"I planned the kidnapping, because I was convinced that I would be able to bargain with the United States for one or two people like former Taliban ambssador to Pakistan Mullah Abdul Salam Zaeef," Omar told investigators.
Saiful Malook, a lawyer associated with the defense team, says the prosecution has no evidence to prove that Omar kidnapped Pearl and had him killed. "They have no witness, there is no body. How are they going to prove it all?" says Mr. Malook
Malook says the prosecution had brought up one taxi driver who claimed that on Jan. 23, half an hour after sunset, he brought Pearl in his taxi to a village restaurant near the Metrople Hotel in Karachi, Pakistan.
"That area is usually heavily crowded. It is strange that a taxi driver should care to see where the passenger is going after leaving his cab," Mr. Malook says. "More than a month later, the driver comes to the court and identifies Omar as the man with whom he saw Pearl going away from a 20-foot distance."
The sources said the police knew from available records that Omar traveled to Lahore under the fake name of Haider Farooqi on Jan. 22, a day before Pearl's kidnapping.
Police investigator Manzoor Mughal says the prosecution says they will be able to substantiate charges. "We have a strong case. We do not have the body but still we have got enough evidence to prove Sheikh Omar and 10 others guilty," he says.