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Pakistan Should Grant Access to the Mind of a Killer

July 16, 2002|MANSOOR IJAZ

Ahmad Omar Saeed Sheikh was sentenced in a Hyderabad court to hang for his role in masterminding the kidnapping and heinous murder of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl. But silencing the fiery London School of Economics dropout by public execution before allowing U.S. authorities to decode his terrorist mind would be the greatest betrayal of Pearl's legacy that Pakistan could impose.

Sheikh's threat to spill the dark secrets of Pakistan's pro-militancy policies in Kashmir and perhaps elsewhere prevented his extradition to the U.S. in February, when he was first arrested. No known contact has taken place between him and U.S. officials in the region since. Bringing him to the U.S. now would be politically impossible for Gen. Pervez Musharraf, who is dealing daily with threats to his life from Muslim extremists.

But interrogating Sheikh on Pakistani soil while his lawyers work through the justice system's tortuous appeals process would allow U.S. Special Forces and the FBI, already in Pakistan hunting for Al Qaeda operatives with local troops, an important glimpse into the world of Islamic terrorism. U.S. authorities should insist on having that opportunity.

Decoding Sheikh--known for his politeness in private school--may prove invaluable. Determining what motivated the British-born son of a Pakistani clothes merchant to become a world-class terrorist may help U.S. authorities protect other American citizens in countries where Al Qaeda cells are known to operate.

Sheikh's modus operandi is particularly troubling because, like Al Qaeda, it relies almost exclusively on highly specialized but distinctly separate two- and three-member cells, each with plausible deniability of the involvement of another cell's role in an operation of the type that cost Pearl his life. Deciphering what drives these cells, how they are organized and how they distribute responsibility for the component acts that constitute a larger terrorist act are vital to our security.

Little if any of this information would be voluntarily provided to us by Pakistani intelligence, which is bent on preserving its trade secrets for nefarious operations in conflict regions like Kashmir. Kidnapping unsuspecting Westerners with elaborately constructed traps is at the heart of Sheikh's brand of terrorism. In 1994, he was arrested by Indian authorities for alleged involvement in the kidnapping of four tourists--three Britons and one American--in India. India freed him and other militant leaders in December 1999 in exchange for 155 hostages held on an Indian Airlines jet that had been hijacked to the southern Afghan city of Kandahar just two weeks before his case was to be heard.

Sheikh, who disappeared into Pakistan's underworld after being freed, was later linked to Sept. 11 hijacker Mohamed Atta through a $100,000 transfer to Atta's accounts. Understanding that underworld and how money was moved around in it during the period when Sheikh was out of sight is a vital part of U.S. efforts to unveil the system that supports terrorism on foreign soil, where hundreds of sleeper cells with men like Sheikh could be activated.

The risks to Musharraf, already severe from his oscillating policies aimed at reining in terrorists in Kashmir to avoid a wider war with India, will not measurably increase if he allows U.S. officials access to Sheikh.

Since it is a near certainty that some act of terrorism will occur against foreign citizens on Pakistani soil while Sheikh's appeal is under review, it is time for Musharraf to demonstrate the sincerity of his commitment to the U.S. to help unravel the webs of terrorism his intelligence agencies spent two decades spinning into a global threat.

To do so would be a final act honoring Pearl's memory.

*

Mansoor Ijaz, an American of Pakistani origin who worked with moujahedeen leaders to bring about the 2000 cease-fire in Kashmir, introduced Daniel Pearl to Muslim fundamentalists in Pakistan.

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