Filming of movie brings new tension to Daniel Pearl case

The film, which stars Angelina Jolie as the slain reporter's widow, may reopen old wounds in Pakistan.

By , Correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor

"Mariane, I'm sorry ... I didn't bring your Danny home."

With these words and tears in his eyes, a Pakistani police investigator told Mariane Pearl that her husband, Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, was dead. The lines are from "A Mighty Heart: the Brave Life and Death of My Husband, Daniel Pearl," a harrowing tale of Mr. Pearl's murder by Al Qaeda militants in 2002.

Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie started filming the screen version of "A Mighty Heart" here in July, with Mr. Pitt as coproducer and Ms. Jolie cast as Mrs. Pearl.

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The celebrity couple says it hopes their film, to be released in 2007, can heal wounds. But depending on how it handles new information revealed by President Pervez Musharraf, the film may reopen old wounds and reframe perceptions about what happened to Pearl.

Already, the movie is becoming part of the controversy it seeks to depict, some observers say.

Daniel Pearl's murder, although nearly five years old, is hardly solved. The most recent stir erupted in September, when President Musharraf revealed for the first time in his memoir, "In the Line of Fire," that Khalid Sheikh Mohammad (identified by the US 9/11 Commission Report as the mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks) either killed Pearl or played a leading role in the planning of his murder. Musharraf says he confessed under Pakistani interrogation. Mr. Mohammad is currently being held at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, and has never been tried in connection with Pearl's murder.

Prior to Musharraf's book, none of Pearl's murderers have been publicly identified. Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh has been convicted and sentenced to death for kidnapping with the intent to murder Pearl. But he has always insisted he was not present at Pearl's killing.

Lawyers here say that Musharraf's revelation – suggested by Pakistani sources but never before confirmed – casts doubt on who killed Pearl and what role Mr. Sheikh might have played beyond the kidnapping.

"I'm going to submit an application that [Musharraf's] book be used as a piece of evidence. The head of state has exonerated them," says Rai Bashir, a Lahore-based lawyer who represents Sheikh and two of his accomplices.

Was Sheikh a convenient scapegoat or deeply involved? How the movie treats this new development in the case could shape public perceptions and the outcome of his appeal.

Musharraf raises other intriguing questions by suggesting that Sheikh was recruited by MI-6, the British intelligence agency, while he was attending college in Britain. Some Western journalists who have investigated the case have said Sheikh was a member both of Al Qaeda and of Pakistan's intelligence wing.

The filmmakers wouldn't comment on the storyline. A statement released by Jolie says, "This is not a film about terrorism or conflict, it is a story of people of all faiths working together to find the truth."

This summer, the moviemakers suffered a setback when the Pakistani federal government shut down preliminary filming in Karachi, citing a lack of permission. Representatives of Paramount Vantage, which is distributing the film, insist they obtained proper documentation to shoot the film.

Publicists for the film won't comment on this, but some analysts here speculate the Pakistani government stopped filming because it wants to keep the Pearl episode, which brought international infamy to Pakistan, out of the limelight.

"The temptation would be there to stop something which puts Pakistan in a bad light," says Ayesha Siddiqa, an independent analyst in Islamabad.

Displaying the same determination as Pearl's wife, and Pearl himself, the film hardly skipped a beat, however, and changed locations to Pune, India.

But moving the shoot to India hasn't stopped the controversy here.

Pearl's kidnappers, including Sheikh, are now in jail. Their lawyers say the film, once released, could severely damage an appeal they have pending.

"[The movie] will prejudice the minds of the judge and jury. This amounts to interfering with the process of the law," says Abdul Waheed Katpar, a lawyer in Karachi who represented Sheikh throughout his trial.

Even some of those who played a central role in hunting for Pearl are not without their misgivings.

Mir Zubair Mahmood, the Karachi policeman who headed the Pearl investigation, is known as "Captain" in "The Mighty Heart." He risked his life and reputation.

On the one hand, the current attention makes Mr. Mahmood proud. But five years later, he still has concerns about how the film will be received here. "I did something good and have recognition for that. But it brings a threat to me; it compromises my security," he says. "There are so many who don't like me, who think I'm a traitor – because I arrested one of their good friends."

But in the spirit of the film, Mahmood says he won't be swayed by fear. Instead, he hopes that in highlighting the efforts of his investigative team, the film can create a positive impression of Pakistan. "The movie will bring a good name to my country in a way."

Jameel Yusuf, a Karachi businessman who also played a central role in the investigation, says police received death threats from Al Qaeda linked terrorists long after Pearl was killed. "We gave our moral support to Mariane. I hope they show that part," he says.

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