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9/11 mastermind says he killed American journalist

Mohammed claims he cut off Daniel Pearl's head. The Pentagon withheld the graphic admission for a day.

March 16, 2007|Peter Spiegel | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the confessed planner of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, admitted during a military tribunal last weekend that he killed Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, according to a revised transcript of the hearing that confirmed long-held suspicions about his role in the slaying.

The Al Qaeda operative said he cut off Pearl's head after the journalist was kidnapped on a reporting trip to Pakistan in 2002.

"I decapitated with my blessed right hand the head of the American Jew, Daniel Pearl, in the city of Karachi, Pakistan," Mohammed said in a statement delivered by a U.S. military officer serving as his representative. "For those who would like to confirm, there are pictures of me on the Internet holding his head."

The admission was blocked out of a hearing transcript released Wednesday by the Pentagon, giving the impression that Mohammed was implicating others in the slaying. But Defense Department officials released a mostly uncensored version Thursday after notifying Pearl's family that the statement would be included.

"It was a very graphic description," said Bryan Whitman, the senior Pentagon spokesman who made the decision to withhold the information for a day. "We just felt it was important to get to the family to let them know it was going to be in there."

Pearl, who was the Wall Street Journal's South Asia bureau chief, was abducted in Karachi in January 2002 while reporting on a story about would-be shoe bomber Richard Reid.

Pakistani authorities quickly arrested Ahmad Omar Saeed Sheikh, a Pakistani with links to militant groups, and later convicted him of masterminding the abduction. He was sentenced to death. The case is being appealed.

Mohammed has long been suspected of playing a role in the killing. Shortly after Mohammed was captured in Pakistan in March 2003, U.S. officials told Pearl's wife, Mariane, and Journal reporters that they suspected Mohammed was the killer.

Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf wrote in his memoirs last year that although Sheikh lured Pearl to Karachi, where he was kidnapped by Sheikh's accomplices, the killing was conducted by an "Arab-looking" man, who turned out to be Mohammed.

"When we later arrested and interrogated him, he admitted his participation," Musharraf wrote of Mohammed.

Although Mohammed's confession came in a military tribunal that was closed to outside observers, and he was barred from being represented by a lawyer, he told the panel he was making his statements freely and without coercion.

In his statement, Mohammed said pictures of Pearl's killing were proof of his involvement. But Rita Katz, a terrorism expert at the SITE Institute, which tracks extremist websites, said none of the videos or photos distributed on the Internet showed the faces of the men who participated in Pearl's decapitation.

In a statement Thursday, Pearl's parents said they did not know if they believed Mohammed's admission.

"It is impossible to know at this point whether Khalid Shaikh Mohammed's boast about killing our son has any bearing in truth," they said. "We prefer to focus our energy on continuing Danny's lifework through the programs of the Daniel Pearl Foundation, which aims to eradicate the hatred that took his life."

During his military hearing, Mohammed delivered a long speech in partially broken English in which he said he thought Pearl was working for Israeli intelligence and was trying to determine if Reid had traveled to Israel to scout for potential targets.

"His mission was in Pakistan to track about Richard Reid trip to Israel," Mohammed said. "His mission in Pakistan [was] from Israeli intelligence, Mossad, to make interview to ask about when he was there."

peter.spiegel@latimes.com

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