Al-Qaida operative says he beheaded Pearl

The Baltimore Sun

WASHINGTON -- Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the suspected planner of the Sept. 11 attacks, admitted during a military tribunal last weekend that he personally 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-Qaida operative said he cut off Pearl's head after the journalist was kidnapped during 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," he claimed in a statement delivered by a U.S. officer serving as his personal representative. "For those who would like to confirm, there are pictures of me on the Internet holding his head."

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

Pearl, who was the Journal's South Asia bureau chief at the time, was abducted in Karachi in January 2002 while reporting on a story about alleged "shoe bomber" Richard Reid. Pakistani authorities quickly arrested Omar Saeed Sheikh, a Pakistani with links to militant groups, and later convicted him of masterminding the abduction. He was sentenced to death and the case is on appeal.

But Mohammed has long been suspected of involvement 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 murderer.

Pakistan's president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, wrote in his memoirs last year that while Sheikh lured Pearl to Karachi, where he was kidnapped, the actual killing was conducted by an "Arab-looking" man, who later 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.

Despite Mohammed's claim that pictures of Pearl's killings are proof of his involvement, Rita Katz, a terrorism expert at the SITE Institute, which tracks extremist Web sites, said that none of the videos or photos distributed on the Internet show any of the faces of the men who participated in the decapitation.

In a statement issued yesterday, Pearl's parents said they did not know whether they believed Mohammed's admission.

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

Other parts of the transcript were redacted by the military, and there were suggestions in it that Mohammed contended that he was mistreated while in the custody of the CIA after his arrest in 2003. He was transferred to military custody at Guantanamo Bay last year.

It is not clear how many of Mohammed's expansive claims were legitimate. In 2005, the Sept. 11 commission said that Mohammed was noted for his extravagant ambitions and, using his initials, described his vision as "theater, a spectacle of destruction with KSM as the self-cast star, the superterrorist."

Mohammed declined to speak under oath, saying his religious beliefs prohibited it. But he said he was telling the truth.

Mohammed, 41, is an ethnic Pakistani who grew up in Kuwait and graduated from North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University in 1986. He was captured on March 1, 2003, in Rawalpindi, Pakistan, and was held in the secret CIA prison system, where he is believed to have been subjected to harsh interrogation.

In a long monologue that fills about four single-spaced pages of the transcript, Mohammed said his motives were military ones.

"If America they want to invade Iraq they will not send for Saddam roses or kisses, they send for a bombardment," he said. "I consider myself, for what you are doing, a religious thing as you consider us fundamentalist. So, we derive from religious leading that we consider we and George Washington doing the same thing."

He pleaded on behalf of some of his fellow detainees. "I'm asking you again to be fair with many detainees which are not enemy combatant," Mohammed said. "Because many of them have been unjustly arrested."

The unclassified part of the hearing lasted for a little more than an hour, according to the transcript.

Near the end, Mohammed summed up. "The American have human right," he said. "So, enemy combatant itself, it flexible word."

"War start from Adam when Cain killed Abel until now," he said.

Peter Spiegel writes for the Los Angeles Times. The New York Times contributed to this article.

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