Wednesday, October 22, 2003

Al-Qaeda's Deepest Secret

Wish I knew what it was, but Ron Rosenbaum thinks he knows what it is:

Here’s the passage in The New York Times with The Wall Street Journal’s statement—you decide: "[Mr. Lévy] nonetheless speculates that Mr. Pearl was pursuing evidence that Al Qaeda and North Korea were receiving nuclear secrets from Pakistani scientists with ties to the I.S.I. and fundamentalist groups ….

His speculation, based on a recent book by journalist Bernard-Henri Lévy, is that Al-Qaeda, North Korea and Pakistan are somehow involved in a plot to produce and detonate a terrorist nuclear weapon; that Danny Pearl stumbled on to the plot accidentally and was killed to silence him. The sadism was a bonus.

It sounds like a crock, but there's this just in today from the Washington Post:

U.S. investigators have concluded that Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl was slain by Khalid Sheik Mohammed, the senior al Qaeda leader believed to be the mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, sources familiar with the case said yesterday.

Although Mohammed has long been suspected of playing a direct role in Pearl's kidnapping and death -- and was named by two Pakistani defendants as the actual killer more than a year ago -- U.S. officials said previously that they did not have enough evidence to confirm those allegations.

But two U.S. officials said yesterday that new information obtained in recent months has confirmed that Mohammed slit the reporter's throat with a knife in January 2002. Mohammed was captured in March at a safe house in Rawalpindi, Pakistan, and has since been held and interrogated by U.S. forces at an undisclosed location.

"It is true that the U.S. government now believes that KSM was responsible for Pearl's death," said one U.S. official, referring to the common shorthand used to identify Mohammed. "Before, we simply didn't know, but we have now moved towards thinking that we do. Our view on the likelihood that he did it has certainly hardened."

The official declined to comment on what evidence led to the new U.S. view of the case, which was first reported yesterday by the Journal.

The new evidence is likely to be collateral evidence -- additional information from someone other than Khalid Sheik Mohammed -- of an extremely convincing nature, possibly from someone who also participated in Pearl's murder. But if KSM were in fact Daniel Pearl's executioner, the fact would be extremely suggestive.

  • Why would KSM hide his culpability? As the killer of more than 3,000 people on September 11, he would hardly fear being accused of an additional murder. The Washington Post earlier reported that KSM was 'cooperating' with US authorities yet apparently kept the Pearl incident under deep cover. What was so significant about the Pearl killing that it warranted concealment?
  • Why would KSM, the operational planner for Al-Qaeda, concern himself with the murder of a single journalist? The murder took place in the critical period between the ouster of the Taliban from Afghanistan and the commencement of operations in Iraq: a time of crisis for international terrorism.

None of these questions amounts to a hill of beans without further information and it is useless to speculate further. However, they provide enough purchase to alert us to watch for certain things. The first is whether the US government puts KSM on trial, for his participation in September 11 or the Daniel Pearl murder. And it doesn't look like KSM is going before a judge any time soon. According to CNN's Mike Ensor:

U.S. officials say they have what they call new evidence indicating to them that it was, indeed, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed ... who personally slit the throat of Daniel Pearl ... who was kidnapped and killed ... in January 2002. Now Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, this [would be] an extraordinary act for a man who was the mastermind, one of the senior officials in al Qaeda, to commit a murder personally. But U.S. officials say they are now convinced ... based on this new information, that he actually did the killing himself. Now, officials say they do not believe he will be put on trial any time soon for this murder. He is a prisoner at an undisclosed location outside the United States, of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, but officials wouldn't rule out a trial or legal action against him at some time in the future.

The strong implication is that US intelligence is eager to get certain secrets of such importance that they are willing to forgo KSM's prosecution for the time being. The second is to watch the Saudi-Pakistani-North Korean triangle. The truth is out there.